Don't be surprised if Constitution Hill's brilliant owner is in tears if his star wins at Sandown

DON’T be surprised if owner Michael Buckley sheds a tear or two should mega talent Constitution Hill romp home in today’s feature Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown. 

Buckley knows all about the ups and downs of racehorse ownership. 

He’s had the ecstasy of Finian’s Rainbow landing a Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. 

But he has put up with the heartbreak of Toast of New York being touched off in a Breeders’ cup Classic. 

And then there has been the tragedy. Buckley’s The Proclamation was a huge talent in 1990. He fell in the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Ascot and subsequently had to be put down. That was an incident which truly left Buckley heartbroken. 

Constitution Hill faces just five rivals in today’s ITV feature and will be long odds on for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville, having burst up the Sandown run-in to look impressive in a novice at the track last time. 

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Each word Buckley says about the game he considers. I like that. And when you talk to him you really understand how every aspect of being a racehorse owner has affected him. 

Reflecting on his experiences as an owner, Buckley told me: “With Finian’s Rainbow it was such a thrill to win one of the premier races at Cheltenham. I’d never won one before and I was overwhelmed really with amazement. 

“It was immediately a shame there was some controversy about the last fence (which was bypassed), but I think he would have won whatever had happened. 

“I ended up going down to the local pub with all the stable lads and lasses and we drunk them out of champagne! My memories for the rest of the day disappeared in a bad hangover.” 


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Finian’s Rainbow is one in a list of classy horses to carry Buckley’s white silks with a black cap. Others number Mutare, New York Rainbow, Tinryland, Thumbs Up, Spirit River, Spirit Son, Beat That and Brain Power. 

Toast of New York was beaten a nose by Bayern in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic after the winner survived a lengthy stewards’ enquiry for crossing rivals to his left at the start. 

I was at the track covering the meeting for Attheraces, and I truly believed there was every chance he would get the race after deliberations. Buckley could hardly speak, and when I asked him for an immediate reaction on camera he asked me to give him a moment. It was tense, almost desperate times. A hush fell over Santa Anita as the sun dipped.  

“Well you were there Matt, and I was astounded initially how well he had run,” Buckley said. “I was thrilled and then there was the stewards’ enquiry. We got anxious and I saw (Jamie) Spencer in tears on top of the horse going round in circles waiting for the result. 

“Waiting that long to find out your fate I think I became more and more disappointed about coming second and going so close than if the result had just been sorted straight away. 

“It elongated the hope process of thinking you might have won. That said I was so proud of the horse and so proud of the two Jamies (trainer Jamie Osborne and Spencer). 

“The only time since I have really regretted what happened was when I went back to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup and looked up at the board of previous Classic winners. I thought what a thrill it would have been to see his name up there. 

“But racing is made of shortish moments of triumph and joy and lots of disappointments” 

When talking about The Proclamation, Buckley pauses frequently and over thirty years on has to fight back his emotions. 

“The Proclamation was just a horse I loved,” he sighs. “When he fell at Ascot there was still hope he would be all right – I remember going to the Opera that night in London with Nicky Henderson hopeful.  

“I can’t tell you what that horse meant to me, and I said a little prayer the next day. But he couldn’t be saved.” 

The loss of The Proclamation still hurts Buckley today. 

Luckily, it didn’t put Buckley off the sport. Indeed, he remains a huge enthusiast and is the kind of chap it’s easy to support in his quest to find another star. 

Constitution Hill might just be that horse. That would be something to proclaim about. 


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