And so we arrive at Epsom Downs in the first week of June. One of the great racing festivals is before us, a gathering that predates the French Revolution and which resonates still among ordinary folk with little connection to the equine world.
The origins of organised sport and the link to leisure can be traced to the Arcadian fields in the south of England, where at its height the Derby had the power to empty the capital, including Parliament. For the cognoscenti what happens over a mile and a half on Saturday is of greater import than the winning goal a month hence in Brazil. For the participants there is no greater prize.
William Buick has the imperial sheen of a jockey already at the vanguard of his generation. Born to a racing family in Norway and raised on the back of a beast, Buick was anointed by John Gosden in 2010. He has ridden his share of winners, Classics too, but not yet the Derby. He chose Gosden's Western Hymn over Romsdal for his fifth tilt.
"It's a unique race, so demanding for a horse," says Buick. "It's a hard race to win and you need the ultimate racehorse to do it. Western Hymn was a hard choice. John left it to me. I've been on both. Western Hymn is unbeaten, crossed every barrier we have set him and has come out on top. At Sandown last time he ran on soft ground, not his strength, hung a little, didn't look pretty but he won. He's a horse that only does enough. He needs to stay, but the door is open."
Buick's Derby recollections reach back 14 years to a first viewing as an 11-year-old boy via dodgy satellite at home in Norway. His father, Walter, a pillar of the Scandinavian racing scene in his youth and a successful trainer in Germany before migrating to the racing media in Blighty, rigged up the television to beam some magic into the Buick parlour.
Before that he was reared on stories of a teenage Lester Piggott rounding Tattenham Corner with his foot to the floor. "Lester ran a winner for my dad. He came over to Germany in the latter part of his career. I remember it was a horse no one else could win on. Lester came over and won by a short-head. My dad just said he made a difference. The best horse wins usually but some jockeys can make a difference.
"My hero was Frankie Dettori. I liked what Steve Cauthen did when he came over from America, changing the style of racing. But what Lester achieved was unbelievable. He won the Breeders' Cup at 55. Show us your medals. He has them all, nine Derbies. I had breakfast with him before my first Oaks in 2010. He came over to join us for breakfast. I thought, 'Great, I'll be able to get all the ins and outs from him.' He didn't say a word. He never does, renowned for it."
Piggott would have nothing but respect for Buick's talent, work ethic and love of the game. On Wednesday he rode his 32nd winner of the season at Nottingham. His 33rd came that evening at Kempton in circumstances that mark him out as special.
His mount Amood had breasted the line when he first noticed loose horses cantering past. Their jockeys had been unseated two furlongs out when Dreaming Brave went over. Its jockey, Jim Crowley, and Martin Lane, thrown by the collapsing Slunovrat, were rerouted to hospital for X-rays. Buick went with them. No bones were broken so no great drama. But Buick went all the same.
"It's a matter of respect. Besides he [Crowley] needed a lift home. Out there is every man for himself. But we are all in it together. I've been quite lucky with falls. Things like that are not usual. It's the game we are in."
It is also a measure of Buick's desire and dedication that a wet Wednesday night at Kempton holds as much appeal as Epsom on Derby day. "The Derby, Guineas, Ascot, York are all very well but you can't compete there without doing this. This keeps you sharp. It's like football. You wouldn't hear the Chelsea players saying they won't play in the Capital One Cup on that crappy pitch or whatever. You have to do it."
A win on Saturday would define his career anew, reset the parameters. "Of course you think about the Derby, everybody gets tense before a race like that. It's very exciting, adrenalin pumping. To win it would mean everything. A lot of good jockeys have never won it. You just need to get the horse that can handle it. You have to leave your horse alone in a sense and hope you get a chance in the straight."
The Investec Derby is live on Channel 4 and is part of QIPCO British Champions Series. For more information visit: www.britishchampionsseries.com
Fifteen stand ground against Australia
Sixteen runners were declared for the Derby, run at Epsom on Saturday, 4pm Arod, Australia, Ebanoran, Fascinating Rock, Geoffrey Chaucer, Impulsive Moment, Kingfisher, Kingston Hill, Orchestra, Our Channel, Pinzolo, Red Galileo, Romsdal, Sudden Wonder, True Story, Western Hymn.
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