The racing world has lost one of its most popular and respected characters with the passing at the age of 77 of former Grand National-winning jockey Pat Buckley, who ranks as one of the most influential administrators in the history of racing in the United Arab Emirates.
Born and raised in Ireland, Pat Buckley spent his entire riding career based in the north of England in the Middleham stable of Captain Neville Crump, who was then one of the country’s leading National Hunt trainers and to whom Buckley worked firstly as an apprentice (between November 1957 and July ’62) and subsequently as stable jockey.
Having ridden his first winner aged 17 on Blue Moth in the prestigious Hearts of Oak Chase at Manchester in 1961, Buckley cemented his place in the top tier of Britain’s National Hunt jockeys merely two years later when he enjoyed a stunning spell of success in the spring of 1963. Firstly he picked up an outside ride on the Keith Piggott-trained 66/1 chance Ayala in the greatest race of all, the Grand National at Aintree, and guided the lightly-weighted 9-year-old to a famous victory, beating Carrickbeg and John Lawrence (later Lord Oaksey) by three quarters of a length. A month later he won another of Britain’s premier steeplechases, taking the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown on the Crump-trained Hoodwinked.
Buckley went on to spend over a decade as one of the leading jockeys in what was a golden age for National Hunt racing in the north of England and Scotland, one of a select band of dominant Irish riders alongside the likes of his compatriots Ron Barry, Tommy Stack, Paddy Broderick, Barry Brogan and, towards the end of that time, Jonjo O’Neill. He rode the winners of many other great races including when he and Crump won ‘the Whitbread’ again the following year courtesy of Dormant lowering the colours of the great Mill House (in circumstances which are unlikely to be repeated as the winner was receiving three stone from the runner-up, Dormant carrying 9 stone 7lb and Mill House 12 stone 7lb).
Other notable victories came in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr (in 1968 on the Crump-trained Arcturus), the Mildmay Memorial Steeplechase at Sandown (on Dormant in 1964), the Liverpool Hurdle, the Coronation Hurdle and the Eider Chase. Having made a dream Grand National start by winning the great race at the first attempt while still a teenager, Buckley rode in it a further six times, including when fourth on Rutherfords in 1968.
Retiring from race-riding in his early 30s, Buckley set up as a trainer in the North Yorkshire village of Spennithorne, a few miles from Middleham, but soon discovered the difficulties of balancing the books when one only has a small string. He then worked as assistant trainer to John Hill in Barnstaple in Devon and as head lad to Nicky Vigors in Lambourn before accepting an offer in the late 1970s from the Sultan of Oman to help him to establish a major racing operation in Oman.
Once that project was up and running, Buckley was hired by Sheikh Mohammed to assist in the task of establishing Dubai as a world-leading racing centre. A key figure in the creation of the racecourses at Nad al Sheba and then Meydan, Buckley played a major part in the inauguration of the Dubai World Cup in 1996 and the subsequent consolidation of its position as one of the landmark events in the international racing calendar. He continued to work in the administration of racing in the UAE until his retirement, actively involved over the years in nearly every aspect of the sport’s governance, with his experience, integrity and unvarying good humour making him not only one of the most respected but also one of the most popular members of the racing community.
A loving and beloved husband of Joyce (who predeceased him), proud father of Kevin (Coolmore’s representative in Great Britain) and Helen, and doting grandfather, Pat Buckley will be remembered as one of the high-achievers of the racing world and also as one of its most likeable characters. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and friends.
The news of Buckley’s death reached Meydan in the midst of its Thursday evening carnival card, and the jockeys wore black armbands in his honor for the last two races. The winning riders of the last two races paid tribute to Buckley; Richie Mullen said after winning the Meydan Classic Trial: “I would just like to dedicate that win to Pat Buckley-the whole of the UAE has lost a great man. I’ve been here for 22 years and counting and Pat has been a big part of racing here and a big part of my life. He’s been a great friend over the years and he hasn’t been well and we received the sad news this evening. The UAE will be a quiet place without him. We can only send our condolences to his family here in the UAE and back home in Newmarket.
“His Highness Sheikh Zayed brought him over and he set up Abu Dhabi Racing and was an integral part of the original World Cup here. As an apprentice I came here and he mentored us over the years and I have had a lot of trip with Pat over the years. He has been a great friend and it’s a huge loss. Like I said the world is a smaller place without him.”
William Buick said after winning the Listed Dubai Sprint: “I am very sorry hear of Pat Buckley’s passing, and my condolences to all of his family and friends. He was always very friendly and the ultimate professional. A very sad day for horse racing, not just in the UAE but around the world.”