Watch young jockey William Buick in the parade ring tipping his cap politely to owners and he looks too slight to be driving home hefty old handicappers. The pink choirboy cheeks have ladies wanting to pick up the 20-year-old and cuddle him. But like other top riders who have had those good manners and angelic looks — Walter Swinburn, Steve Cauthen and Jamie Spencer come to mind — William has had enough early brushes with the stewards to show there is nothing soft about his will to win.
William was the apprentice sensation of 2007, winning the Wokingham at Royal Ascot on Dark Missile for his chief employer, Andrew Balding, and a string of handicaps for Barry Hills on The Illies. But champion apprentices can be the barbecue flares of racing, burning brightly for a short while then fizzling out once they lose the 7lb, 5lb and finally 3lb allowances which encourage trainers to put them up against fully fledged professionals.
William is one of the exceptions. A natural with perfect balance and that precious capacity to induce horses to run sweetly for him, he has sailed through the potential pitfall stage. He has made it, thanks partly to a formidable management team, starting with the Balding family. Andrew’s father Ian wagered a tenner at 500–1 that Walter would become champion jockey before 2020 and Andrew now gives him the pick of the Kingsclere rides.
The jockey’s father Walter, eight times champion jockey in Scandinavia, goes through races with him and agent Simon Dodds has had the sense not to rush the prodigy, concentrating on quality rather than quantity.
That tough taskmaster Barry Hills told me one day of William Buick, ‘He’s the best I’ve seen since Steve Cauthen.