Buckler buckles down to success

The lingering, crescent moon itself seems a husk of frost, and the lanes around the stables are glazed with ice. They are too precarious, certainly, for the horses to walk to the all-weather gallop, so Bob Buckler instead sends them bounding among the sheep in the adjacent meadows, where the first sunlight is restoring green and gold to the wintry monochrome. By the time the horses descend back into the yard, they are wreathed in a nimbus of steam.

An equivalent thaw seems to be suffusing the same animals on the racecourse, too. In the past month Buckler has saddled the winners of the principal steeplechase on cards at Ascot, Newbury and Wincanton, taking him into the top 25 in the trainers' table. For a man whose irreproachable modesty tends to extend to the resources of his patrons, it is a conspicuous achievement. It is, moreover, no coincidence.

This is Buckler's first season since moving a few miles north to a new yard, Higher Peckmoor, leased from Jeremy Barber on the Dorset-Somerset border. While the landscape is not quite as sumptuous as around his old base, at Melplash, it still has a lovely sway and swell. But this fresh start is a very literal one. Having converted a pig barn into 33 stalls, Buckler seems to have broken the viral cycle that had been compounding the odds against him.

"We have started with a clean environment, and that probably is one factor," he said. "We were hit quite hard for a couple of seasons, and then again last winter, when one of our horses brought something back from Sandown. And once it gets into a yard, it grumbles around for months. The older horses got it together again in the spring, but the younger ones tend not to shake it off until they get a summer break."

One factor, certainly, but by no means the only one. Buckler has always cherished the classic model of steeplechaser, the type that tends to demand the temperament of Job and wallet of Croesus. And, as if in counterpoint to the bugs and viruses, these maturing horses can also bring good fortune in cycles.

"Trainers who can spend £200,000 on a horse are spending £200,000 for a reason," Buckler said. "That's not to say that that horse is going to be 10 times better than my £20,000 one. Yes, there will be times when you feel you are going to war against tanks with a .303 rifle. But while some of these French horses will be very good over fences at four or five, they might not last too much longer. Once you identify potential, in the more traditional types we tend to have here, you need to give them a chance, time to develop. And it does feel as though we have got a nice bunch of seven-, eight-, nine-year-olds coming through now."

By his own admission, Buckler makes life harder for himself by being a hopeless salesman. He admits to an astute eye for a young horse, but has always been queasy about persuading people to back that judgement. "Some people are very good at it, but it's not my way of doing things," he shrugged.

Instead he trusts that his horses will do the button-holing for him, sometimes starting them off in his own colours until they establish their merit. But there is nothing diffident about the way he campaigns them, and tomorrow he saddles The Sawyer, a recent Newbury winner, as one of the likely outsiders in a valuable handicap at Cheltenham. "He's dropping back in distance and might get taken off his feet, on good ground, but we hope that all the rain will ensure a suitable test at the trip," he said. "He's so well, and has limited options at the moment, so we thought we'd give it a go."

Similar intrepidity paid off with the improving Niche Market, an exuberant jumper who gave Buckler the most valuable success of his career when a 33-1 winner at Ascot just before Christmas. Fourth in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival last year, he will be aimed at the same race en route to possible National service at Aintree or Fairyhouse.

If you play the long game, of course, your hopes can still be extinguished in a trice. It is now nearly two years since Warlord, whose easy Ascot success had confirmed him the best young prospect Buckler had ever trained, fell fatally when cruising into contention at Wincanton. Perseverance, however, is bringing its consolations.

"A lot of people warned me it would take a year to adapt to the new facilities here," Buckler said. "But we seem to be rising to the challenge."

*His form since required a leap of faith but punters who stayed loyal to last year's winner were again rewarded with a 20-1 success in the big race at Gowran Park yesterday. Relishing the heavy ground, Preist's Leap was always going strongly in the Ellen Construction Thyestes Chase and beat Chelsea Harbour four lengths. Two recent predecessors, Hedgehunter and Numbersixvalverde, followed up at Aintree and Thomas O'Leary will now train Preist's Leap for the John Smith's Grand National.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style