Editor's Own / Sport

The Small World of Scandinavian Racing

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It’s been a successful week for jockey William Buick. On Tuesday he won the King’s Stand aboard Blue Point, and on Friday he brought Old Persian to victory in the King Edward VII Stakes. Earlier this month Buick gave trainer Charlie Appleby his first Epsom Derby win on Masar…


Alexander Brett 

It’s been an incredible season for William Buick. At Royal Ascot he won the King’s Stand and the King Edward VII Stakes and, earlier in the year, he gave Charlie Appleby a first Derby win under Masar.

That he’s an extraordinary jockey, everyone knows. That he’s Norwegian, however, few people know. Born in Oslo – his mother, Maria, was a dressage rider and his father, Walter, Scandinavian champion jockey eight times – Buick’s riding talent was never disputed. He rode out every morning before school and spent summer holidays in the UK at the yards of Marcus Tregoning, Reg Hollinshed and Andrew Balding. As soon as he could, he left secondary education, and joined Balding’s yard full-time. He rode his first race in August 2006, aged eighteen, and had his first win a month later. Before 2006 was out, he’d had ten. In 2008, he was awarded a Leger Award for Best Apprentice Jockey and over the next nine years won a Queen Anne, a St Leger, an Irish Derby and an Irish Oaks, the Grand Premio di Milano and the E.P Taylor Stakes in Toronto.

Surely, then, with such passion for the sport, Buick was destined to leave Scandinavia as soon as he could. Norway has just one flat racecourse. Britain forty. Prize money for Norway’s biggest race, the Norsk Derby, is just 500,000 NOK (£46,566). For the Epsom Derby it’s £1,500,500. Spectator figures for the Norsk Derby sit around 8,000. At Epsom they’re 150,000 (plus up to another 1,800,000 on television).


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William Buick enters the Epsom winner’s enclosure on Masar


Norwegian racing is, undoubtedly, a niche world, and one certainly too niche for Buick. But Scandinavian racing more generally is a niche world that holds its own. Denmark, Norway and Sweden all have their own jockey clubs, and all three their own derby: Denmark’s is held at Klampenborg, just north of Copenhagen, Norway’s at Øvrevoll, near Oslo, and Sweden’s (on all-weather) at Jägersro, near Malmö.

In fact racing in Scandinavia goes as far back as 1770, when Caroline Mathilde, an English princess married off to Christian VII of Denmark (her first cousin) arranged small, exclusive, race meetings near Copenhagen. Soon after, following what Nick Elsass, chairman of the Danish Jockey Club (Dansk Jockey Klub), calls “a minor Danish revolution”, they were abandoned. To bear children (not easy with your first cousin) Caroline Mathilde had continued an affair with the king’s physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee. As Struensee overtook King Christian as de facto ruler, the court thought it best to execute him and exile Caroline to Hanover. Successive monarchs were uninterested in carrying on her passion, so there was a gap in meetings for well over fifty years. Finally, in the late 1820s, racing was held again, at Nørre Fælled in central Copenhagen. In 1870 it moved out of town to Jægersobrg Dyrehave, where the present-day Klampenborg racecourse was inaugurated in 1910.

Klampenborg now hosts twenty five meetings a year, sharing the cards with a further four trotting courses: one in nearby Charlottenlund, one in Aarhus, one in Odense and one in Aalborg. Horses come from all over Scandinavia – “the Dansk Derby”, Nick Elsass tells me, “is restricted to horses born in Norway, Sweden or Denmark” – but few are trained elsewhere. Though Queen Margarethe, in her role as patron of the Danish Jockey Club, is a regular visitor Elsass describes the race days as “very casual”. “There’s no formal dress code,” he explains, “though people dress up a bit for Lady’s Day in September.”


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Derby Day at Klampenborg, on the outskirts of Copenhagen


Swedish racing, though just as relaxed, is, Elsass says, different. With their all-weather surfaces and left-handed turns, racecourses resemble more closely those of North America. Before it closed in 2016, Täby racecourse, near Stockholm was a leading European course. It held up to fifty meetings a year and was home to two Group Three races: the Stockholm Cup and the Täby Sprint Championship. Täby’s meetings have now been moved to Bro Park, a new venue forty kilometres to the northeast, a move that unquestionably lost Swedish racing some prestige.

Nevertheless, Sweden remains Scandinavia’s leading racing nation. The Svenskt Grand National, held at Strömsholm, near Västerås, is Scandinavia’s biggest steeplechase, attracting an audience of over 4,000 each year. The Svenskt Derby, too, is often held up to be Scandinavia’s leading flat race, and winners of the Stockholm Cup include British-bred Collier Hill and French-bred Labirinto. Sweden also hosts a couple of mixed Arabian days at Blommeröd Stud, near Lund, and is preparing to build a new course in Gothenburg.


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The Svenskt Grand National, held at Strömsholm, near Lund


One Danish official summed up the state of Scandinavia’s racing when he said that “the Norwegians have the money, the Swedes the races and the Danes the jockeys.” There’s really no better summary than that. Sweden’s races are increasingly respected, and Norway has both good sponsors and ambitious owners. Danish racing, too, though it could benefit from more investment, has produced some top riders – Nicholas Cordrey, for example, who rode seven firsts and a second at Jagersrö in 2000.

Wido Neuroth, perennially Norway’s champion trainer, was, in 1999, the only trainer to win Scandinavia’s triple crown for thirty seven years (varying terrains make getting all three derbies an almost impossible feat), and a year later was the first Scandinavian trainer to take a horse, Pretty Girl, abroad, coming second in the Tattersalls Houghton Stakes at Newmarket. That was six years before Scandinavia’s second racing export rode his first win at Brighton.

William Buick is now a self-confessed millionaire, firmly based in Newmarket. He’s a favourite jockey of Charlie Appleby, Aiden O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden, and frequently rides in the Godolphin colours of HH Sheikh Mohammed. But, while he’s certainly not going to give it all up and head back to Norway, he’d do well to remember that, had it not been for his father’s place in their racing scene, he might not have got where he is today. While Buick may not be propping up the niche world of Scandinavian racing, he certainly owes it a great deal of thanks.


 

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