CLOSE UP MAGAZINE
When William Buick won the 2010 Ladbroke St Leger on Arctic Cosmos to land his first British classic at Doncaster he promised that there would be other, even bigger days ahead. Little did he know how much bigger, and more difficult things would get ten months later at Ascot.
As he was led back after winning Britain’s richest race, The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Nathaniel the screens were already up to shield the last rites of Sheikh Mohammed’s star horse Rewilding who had snapped a foreleg and smashed Frankie Dettori into the turf in a sickening accident two furlongs out. As he drove home, the news bulletins were full of something of far wider horror – the dreadful bombing and shooting in his home city of Oslo.
“I just can’t believe it,” he said, that familiar phrase from big event winners now being employed for graver things, “my mother heard the bomb go off. Lots of my school friends live nearby and some of them had friends on the island. Norway is such a peaceful place that it will be very hard for everyone to take.”
William Buick is just 23 and looks even less but as he progresses on from last year’s first classic season we have got used to old words from the young shoulders. Born and brought up in Norway he followed his jockey father Walter to England after his parents split up but at 15 he was so miniscule that it was not until August 10th 2006 that he was finally exposed to the wider public on the appropriately named Tiny Tim at Brighton. “We had to be a little careful and hold him back a little,” says Andrew Balding, “because he was so small. But he had a knack of settling horses and by the time he had his first ride we could see he was very talented.”
Indeed as he drove Tiny Tim home in second place switching his whip three times in the final furlong he so impressed Newmarket trainer’s wife Sue D’Arcy that she reported back to her husband Paul that she had seen an apprentice who was going places. On September 27th 2006, the still diminutive William was loaded up on to the big black back of a tall but as yet undistinguished horse called Bank On Benny and then proceeded to sweep past his 15 rivals in the last quarter mile to open what even then looked certain to be a glittering career.
William’s effort’s over the next two summers won him the apprentice award at “The Lesters”, (racing’s “Oscars”) but his winter stints riding work for top trainer Todd Pletcher in Florida were to have proved equally important. In January 2010 John Gosden rang from Newmarket with an offer Buick could not refuse. “To be frank,” said the trainer, “I was slightly surprised that someone hadn’t come in for him already. I had watched him for a while, he had been at what I consider the best academy in Europe (Kingsclere), Frankie gave me good reports on him and I liked the idea that he was already trying to learn about America. Of course it is a long road ahead but he is very intelligent and things are going very well.”
To a long time observer of the jockey scene there is a pleasing sense of athletic heritage in Buick’s American connection. For while he himself is following his great idol Frankie Dettori into those body and mind shaping mornings across the Atlantic, the young Frankie’s own hero was the great Steve Cauthen whose own arrival in Britain only a year after he won the 1978 Triple Crown on Affirmed was one of the seminal moments in British race riding history.
For once he had fully adjusted to the unfamiliar undulations of all our racetracks and adapted himself to the different local tempo Steve brought a rhythm and a toe in the stirrup iron poise to his craft that young aspirants like Dettori embedded deep in their psyche. Frankie is actually a bit too short and chunky to ever be a complete Cauthen clone but the young Buick is something much closer.
The five foot, five stone midget that was loaded on to Bank On Benny at Salisbury in 2006 has grown and lengthened to a Cauthen sized 5 foot 6 and we must pray that his current healthy diet and lifestyle can avoid the dreadful wasting problems that saw Steve hang up his saddle at only 33. The slightly bird like sharpness of the face has quite a hint of the Kentucky farrier’s son who set the standard in the 80’s and on the track the flatness of the back and the rhythmic lift of the driving elbows hark back to golden moments when Cauthen guided home so many equine stars to greatness.
That thought occurred as William drove Arctic Cosmos home in the Ladbrokes St Leger last September just as Steve had with Oh So Sharp in 1985 and even more so when he sent Nathaniel resolutely clear in the King George at Ascot as Cauthen had with Reference Point in 1987. The decisive move from the most memorable of all Steve’s riding legacies and to see what amounts to his racing grandson replaying it at Ascot showed that at least one of the inheritors has not squandered the treasure.
A whole month before that first Buick “pea on a drum” moment on Tiny Tim at Brighton, former Classic trainer and Cheltenham winning jockey Ian Balding had £10 on at 500-1 that his son’s young protégée would be champion jockey in the next ten years. With still five to go, the need to concentrate on big races and overseas prizes may yet prevent Balding landing the bet or Buick fulfilling that part of his destiny. But what is not in doubt is that feeling at both Doncaster and Ascot, that the best is yet to come.