WILLIAM Buick’s Classic form is already proven – he has won the last two renewals of the St Leger in scintillating style.
Yet this upwardly mobile jockey has made no secret of his desire to add to his Classic tally on Epsom’s undulations next month in the Derby and the Oaks, still two of British Flat racing’s most prestigious prizes.
He will have a good chance in the former if Fencing wins today’s Betfred Dante at York, a race that is traditionally the most informative of the Derby trials, while The Fugue is now favourite for the Oaks after her sublime win in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes.
It was a tender ride that showed why the 23-year-old Northern Racing College graduate has matured into one of British flat racing’s premier jockeys.
As a precocious teenager, his impetuosity – and over-use of the whip – saw him fall foul of the stewards with frightening frequency.
Yet, since he teamed up with John Gosden in 2010, his all-round riding has improved out of all recognition and Buick has become a master tactician.
This was illustrated by his winning ride on The Fugue, which is owned by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and his wife Madeleine. A highly-rated horse, The Fugue found the rough and tumble of the 1000 Guineas too much 10 days ago before making late progress to finish fourth to the runaway winner Homecoming Queen.
Conscious that the horse may have been scarred by her Newmarket battle on unsuitably soft ground in which it was initially feared she had suffered a serious leg injury, he rode her sensitively in the early stages – Aniseed cut out the running – and then eased the filly into a winning position in the home straight.
When the Joseph O’Brien-ridden Twirl came under pressure two furlongs out, Buick was motionless on the 15-8 prospect. And, when he asked his mount to accelerate, she did so to great effect – winning by four and a half lengths.
Even more impressive was the fact that he patted the horse’s neck before she crossed the winning line – he wanted to tell The Fugue, still light in stature, that she had done her work well ahead of potentially tougher contests. A classy touch.
There was also a neat symmetry to The Fugue’s eyecatching win – Buick’s first ride as Gosden’s stable jockey was a winning one when Dar Re Mi carried the Lloyd-Webber colours to victory at the 2010 Dubai World Cup meeting in a finish that was far more frantic than yesterday’s triumph.
“She felt very good. She was a little bit keen early on and she’s still inexperienced, so when horses come around her, she’s a very reactive filly,” said Buick, who won last year’s Musidora in a photo-finish on the Gosden-trained Joviality.
“I just tried to get her to settle and she picked up really well – she’s class. The Guineas wasn’t a very nice experience for her. She wasn’t unlucky but she came out worst in a barging match and I’m just glad to have her back. At Epsom you need tactical speed and she certainly has that.”
His comments were echoed by Gosden, one of the most respected trainers in Britain, who observed: “The better ground has made a big difference to her.
“All being well she’ll run at Epsom now, but she wouldn’t want it soft. William was a bit cocky, but he felt he had Joseph’s measure. I didn’t like bringing her here just 10 days after the Guineas, but I felt we had to find out if she was good enough for Epsom. She’s got little ballerina feet that sunk at Newmarket so we just hope it’s not soft at Epsom.”
Gosden and Buick were completing a double after Gatewood overcame his relative inexperience to come out on top in the Infinity Tyres Stakes.
The son of Galileo proved too strong for his rivals in this competitive handicap, despite having just three runs behind him last year.
“My plan was to sit in behind the pace but he half reared as the stalls opened and I was further back than I wanted to be,” said Buick, who is due to be reunited with 2010 St Leger winner Arctic Cosmos in tomorrow’s Yorkshire Cup after landing the race 12 months ago on the now retired Duncan.
“We went a really good gallop and I was afraid I was getting there too soon.”
Today’s Dante winner is unlikely to usurp 2000 Guineas winner Camelot for Derby favouritism. The seven-runner field is headed by Bonfire, a winner at Salisbury on debut before finishing a luckless third in the Group One Criterium International. His trainer Andrew Balding, ironically, was the person who gave Buick’s career a leg up.
Godolphin trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni expects to find out whether Mandaean is a realistic Derby contender – he will be ridden by Frenchman Mickael Barzalona who won last year’s Epsom feature on the fast finishing Pour Moi and who is looking to acquire greater experience on English racecourses.
But the Gosden-trained Fencing has proven form. He chased home Aidan O’Brien’s aforementioned Camelot in last year’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and was sixth to the potential wonderhorse in the 2000 Guineas.
“He had a nasty incident with a shoe-clip, which meant he had to miss the Craven. He then ran in the Guineas and he should come on for that,” said the trainer. “I think he’ll stay a mile and a quarter, he’s certainly bred for it.”
It is a remark that could also apply to William Buick following his classic ride on The Fugue.