Saturday 24 March 2018

Buick revelling in rapid ascent

More Group 1 success means young jockey's star is on rise, says Ian McClean

Baron de Coubertin's Olympic assertion that "it's not the winning but the taking part" is not a sentiment that would have resonated with William Buick after his mount Zuider Zee had finished fourth in the concluding Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot on the final Saturday. The expression on the young rider's face entering the weigh-room was the one of Finnegas just as he discovered the young Fionn mac Cumhaill had tasted the salmon of knowledge. Except Ryan Moore was Buick's Fionn in this instance.

Moore had won the race on Simenon -- leaving both jockeys on five wins each for the meeting. However, Moore had the better countback of placed horses, but only just. If Buick had finished third instead of fourth in the very final race, he would have won the coveted title for the very first time, aged just 23. The margin of defeat was just an agonising, diminishing neck.

One of the hallmarks of a champion in any sphere is that they quickly pluck the benefit out of adversity. By the following Wednesday, Buick had already reframed the Ascot experience. "You can't be disappointed with a week like that" was his reflection. After all, in his short six-year career to date he had only ridden three winners in total at the Royal meeting before Ascot 2012. This time around he managed to ride three winners on the Friday alone. Indeed it didn't even take till Wednesday for Buick's reconciliation as both he and Moore went for dinner together outside Newmarket on Saturday night. This admirably characteristic 'bouncebackability' is locked into the jockey's nonchalant reflection. "It's a stressful week, you keep focused and then it's just nice on the Saturday night to sit down for a minute and relax."

The Royal meeting tussle with Moore might simply reflect a microcosm of a larger-stakes tete-a-tete for the overall UK jockeys' title. It is a rivalry narrative of Carson/Eddery (though I don't think they dined together too often) proportions that we are likely to endure, or rather enjoy, for many years.

Buick has never been in contention to win a title previously but his form at the moment is irresistible -- another impressive double at Sandown yesterday -- and he is now delivering on the predictions so many have been making since he began in the saddle at Andrew Balding's. Not only has he reached his half-century but his strike rate is 22% (higher than any jockey in the top 50) and he has won four Group Ones in the last four weeks.

In a golden season for racing so far, newspaper headlines have been dominated by the horse -- Frankel, Black Caviar, Camelot -- with some accompanying acknowledgement of the Ballydoyle team's achievements. Meanwhile, the young Buick has been quietly ascending. Another quiet man John Oxx was sufficiently impressed to engage his services for his second runner, Akeed Mofeed, in the Irish Derby last Saturday.

Oxx is the latest, but by no means the only one, requesting the skills of William Buick outside his retainer John Gosden. After winning the Chicago Arlington Million last year, Buick flew direct to Paris to win the Prix Morny at Deauville for Dave Simcock.

More recently, he won the Gran Premio di Milano last month on a horse trained in Germany by Andreas Wohler. And the waiting-in-front ride he gave Mick Channon's Laugh Out Loud to win the Group Two Prix Sandringham at Chantilly at the start of June was a masterclass in tactical common sense. Little wonder he is in demand.

"That's what we are all striving for, to be the one people want when they're looking for a jockey," Buick says. "It's very hard to get there, it takes a lot of reputation and good winners, and I've had a lot of help along the way."

What strikes you most about Buick is his blend of intelligence and humility -- but underneath the surface crust lurks a steely ambition and a sterling work ethic. He is never likely to rest on his laurels.

"It's very important to keep doing it, you can never sit back and think you've done enough. Never. It's a ruthless game with a lot of good jockeys out there who are getting better. I need to get better too, I'm still nowhere near the finished article yet."

Topically, Buick contextualises in a parallel sport. "I read somewhere that Roger Federer earned £35m last year including the sponsorships and everything else," he says. "You might think that after that he'd sit back and say, I've done all right, but no, he's still doing it. It's motivation. He wants to be number one, he won't sit back. If you want to be in the game, you have to want to be the best."

The cherub-faced Buick is far too young to remember the late Roy Castle's TV show Record Breakers, or its theme tune.

Unwittingly, the jockey mirrors the show's philosophy -- and the way he's going he is likely to become one.

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