It’s been a successful week for Norwegian 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…
William Buick is one of Great Britain’s star jockeys. That he’s an extraordinary rider, everyone knows. That he’s Norwegian, however, is a fact few people know. Born in Oslo, his mother, Maria, was a dressage rider and his father, Walter, was Scandinavian champion jockey eight times. Buick rode out every morning before school, spending 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, joining Balding’s yard full-time.
August 2006 was the first time we saw Buick, aged eighteen, on the track, and he had his first win a month later (aboard Bank on Benny at Salisbury). Before 2006 was out he’d had ten wins. In 2008, he was awarded a Leger Award for Best Apprentice Jockey and, over the next nine years, Buick won a Queen Anne, a St Leger, an Irish Derby and an Irish Oaks in quick succession. Surely, with such passion for the sport, he 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 £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 another 1,800,000 on television).
Norwegian racing is, undoubtedly, a niche sport, and 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, in northern Copenhagen, Norway’s at Øvrevoll in Oslo, and Sweden’s (on all-weather) at Jägersro, in the suburbs of 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, 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 decided 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 the centre of the capital. 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 is a regular visitor, Elsass describes the meetings as casual. “There’s no formal dress code,” he explains, “though people dress up a bit for Lady’s Day in September.”
“There’s no formal dress code,” says Dansk Galop chairman, Nick Elsass, “though people dress up a bit for Lady’s Day in September.”
Swedish racing, though just as relaxed, is, Elsass says, different. With their all-weather surfaces and left-handed turns, racecourses are more similar those in North America. Before it closed in 2016, Täby racecourse, just outside 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 with training facilities forty kilometres to the northeast. It was this move to a ‘mini Newmarket’ that ensured 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 Svensk 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, plans to build a new course in Gothenburg are underway and, to the delight of thousands of spectators, the traditional ‘Nationaldagsgaloppen’, held annually in Ladugårdsgärdet, central Stockholm, remains a permanent fixture in the calendar.
One Danish official summed up the state of Scandinavian racing when they said “the Norwegians have the money, the Swedes the races and the Danes the jockeys.” 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 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). A year later, he was the first Scandinavian trainer to take a horse, Pretty Girl, abroad, coming second in the Tattersalls Houghton Stakes at Newmarket.
But sitting above them all is William Buick. Now a self-confessed millionaire, he’s firmly based in Newmarket. He’s a favourite jockey of Charlie Appleby, Aiden O’Brien, John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute, and he 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.
Bonus: Swedish Jockey Ulrika Holmquist in Conversation
Firstly, could you tell us about your childhood… where did you grow up, and was it around horses and/or racing?
I grew up in Gothenburg. My family wasn’t really racing or horse orientated at the time, but they soon became so, given my interest. I did show jumping and eventing as a junior rider, and a bit of pony racing. Then, when I was 17, I was introduced to racehorses.
To what extent was racing in Sweden a ‘man’s world’ when you entered it. And have things changed?
We have a good proportion of female jockeys in Sweden, but there’s still a dominant proportion of men in the bigger and more valuable races. Still, the chances girls get in relation to their performance and talent seems to be increasingly level, in the same way as a lot of other roles in society.
The world was delighted to see Hollie Doyle’s recent success in the Prix de Diane… Do you communicate with her, and with female jockeys from all over the world?
Yes, I’m lucky to have met and ridden with Hollie on a few occasions. She’s a fantastic rider, and a fantastic human being, as well as being an inspiration for other jockeys. What she achieved in France is really ground-breaking for us female jockeys: being one of the first females (since Hayley Turner) to take a leading role as a rider in Europe. She works very hard and deserves the success she gets.
You’ve been booked on rides in New Zealand recently. Could you tell us about the experience, and where else you’ve raced around the globe?
Well, I’ve lived in New Zealand for just over four years now actually. I did the majority of my apprenticeship ‘down under’, before moving back to Sweden. Racing is big in New Zealand, and both the horses and racing hold a very high standard, given it’s such a small country. I enjoyed my apprenticeship, and learned so much more then I would’ve done had I just stayed in Europe. I’ve also ridden in the UK, USA, UAE, Spain and Saudi Arabia… outside the Scandinavian countries, of course.
I saw you recently on Gärdet for the Nationaldagsgaloppen last month. What was the atmosphere like that day (particularly after two years without it). And what’s it like to race at Sweden’s other courses?
It was great to be back at Gärdet, with 42,000 people cheering you all the way round. It’s a special feeling to ride on a racecourse that’s set up in the middle of the city. The other courses are permanent, and I’m based at Bro Park, which is outside Stockholm and must be one of the newest racecourses in the world, as it opened in 2016.
Racing in Scandinavia is informal… do you think there’s enough glamour?
Well, fashion is important to me… and probably something I spend more money and time on than I should! I think racing is fun, in contrary to the trotting that dominates horse sports here. We certainly have more glamour and flair around ‘straight’ racing, but Scandinavian racing is nowhere near as large as meetings such as Royal Ascot, with ITV and international coverage, and 300,000 spectators across the week.
Extracts of this article have also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.