To ride so coolly, with such restraint, you can only be a young man in a hurry. In March, William Buick won a $5m race in Dubai on just his fourth ride for John Gosden. And now, taking his first meaningful mount in the United States, he has won the Arlington Million – a prize his new boss had been craving since 1981. He did so, moreover, with a ride of such seasoned nerve on Debussy on Saturday night that it is easy to underplay the gamble he is vindicating.
As if to confirm his coming of age as an international jockey, Buick then rushed off to Chicago's O'Hare Airport and yesterday won the Prix Morny in Deauville on Dream Ahead for David Simcock. To a young man who has apparently compressed decades of maturing judgement into barely four seasons, straddling mere time zones is child's play.
Hiring Buick, now 22, looked a legitimate long-term punt by Gosden. The talent was there to warrant a process of trial and error. The boy was plainly a quick learner, and before long might be expected to redress the lack of international experience that had exposed his predecessor, though a relative veteran, when Gosden brought horses over here for the Breeders' Cup. As a man whose class extends far beyond his handling of thoroughbreds, Gosden will not have enjoyed telling Jimmy Fortune that he was to be replaced for the climax of a horse's career. Few men, equally, would have had the acuity to solve the problem this way.
On Debussy, Buick seemed to have no chance on the home turn, trapped as he was behind weakening horses. Gosden's other runner, Tazeez, was faltering in front, having used up too much fuel salvaging a slow start, and Gio Ponti, odds-on to follow up last year's success, was hurtling from last to first.
Buick cursed to himself: "I'm going to be an unlucky loser here, I'm going to finish up on the bridle." One still prey to the impetuosity of youth would probably have started hauling wide, or barging his way into bigger trouble still. But Buick spotted a gap on the rail. "I shut my eyes, and in he went."
Gio Ponti, by now, was already being raucously saluted by the crowd. It was only deep inside the final furlong that they registered this green blur on the rail as a threat. Debussy got up by half a length, the pair two lengths clear of Tazeez, with the other British raider, Summit Surge, one-paced in fifth.
"I must say I did not call him the winner at the eighth pole," Gosden admitted. "William's a very talented young man, with a wise head on his 22-year-old shoulders. His father was a jockey, he came up through the right school and he's a pleasure to work with. He rides cleverly, doesn't panic in a race. He certainly didn't panic today. I can assure you this horse is not the most straightforward ride."
Buick had half a dozen rides at Gulfstream Park during a winter with Todd Pletcher three years ago. "It definitely helped me develop," he said. "Any young jockey needs to get outside his comfort zone. I could have stayed riding on the all-weather in England, but you're better off coming here, learning the fractions, experiencing different horses, a different culture of racing."
Gosden's tuition nourishes his protégé's intuition. "He's very good with young jockeys, very good at giving you confidence when things aren't going right," Buick said. "He never puts unnecessary pressure on jockeys. We talk about tactics, but races can develop in ways you don't expect. It's all split- second decisions. If a jockey is tied to instructions all the time, it's going to go wrong. Touch wood, what I'm really hoping now is that we can break the Group One ice in England."
After Buick won the Sheema Classic on Dar Re Mi, Gosden told him he had never won a bigger purse in a career that began nearly a decade before the jockey was born. They had better quit, he joked, while they were ahead. But while the huge prizes offered in Dubai highlight a de facto year-on-year decline in the Million, a race that carried the same purse in 1981, there was no mistaking that Saturday meant at least as much to Gosden.
The big man spent his first decade as a trainer in California, and his breadth of perspective has been a critical impulse to the development of the international sport. The Million, as its original, signature enterprise, has had a corresponding hold on his affections.
Gosden had six runners in the first seven runnings, notably Royal Heroine, who finished second to the charismatic dual winner, John Henry, in 1984. Later that year she won the Mile at the inaugural Breeders' Cup, and Debussy will now himself be trained for the Turf at Churchill Downs in November. His success at Chester in the spring had indicated an aptitude for the hustle and bustle of American racing, and Gosden hopes he might stay the extra distance in this environment.
The Turf is also on the agenda for Paddy O'Prado, who held off Wigmore Hall in the Secretariat Stakes. Not many horses good enough on dirt to run third in the Kentucky Derby are switched on to turf here, but that was always the point of this carnival – to break down barriers. Richard Duchossois, the sprightly Normandy veteran and industrialist who got the whole thing started, remains an unfeasibly dynamic presence in Chicago. And he was given a standing ovation by the locals after Eclaire De Lune won the Beverly D Stakes in his own silks. The race honours his late wife, who died in 1980; this filly, moreover, is trained by Ron McAnally, who put the Million on the map with John Henry. At 78, McAnally is 10 years the younger of the old men who embraced emotionally afterwards. "But my mother said that only the good die young," Duchossois said. "So I reckon I've still a long time left."
Gosden marvelled that both he and Duchossois had satisfied a long quest within an hour of each other. "For both of us, this has been one of the best days of our lives," he said. It may come as a surprise to Buick, but the best days seldom happen overnight.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Classically (3.15 Kempton)
Dropped another 2lb after finishing in midfield last time but actually showed clear signs of a revival, meeting traffic after travelling well, and could prove well-treated if building on that back over this longer trip.
Menadati (6.15 Windsor)
Keeps promising more to come, not least when opening her account at Beverley last time, having infinitely more in hand than the winning margin after idling in front.
One to watch
Madany (B W Hills) could not complete the hat-trick in a York nursery last week but enhanced her reputation even so, third despite being marooned by the draw and impressing by the way she tanked through the race.
Where the money's going
Dream Ahead is 16-1 with Ladbrokes for the 2,000 Guineas after following up his runaway Nottingham maiden win with success in the Prix Morny in France yesterday.Reuse content