Meet Seamus Buckley, Goodwood's Clerk of the Course

PUBLISHED: 01:16 30 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:40 20 February 2013

Meet Seamus Buckley, Goodwood's Clerk of the Course

Meet Seamus Buckley, Goodwood's Clerk of the Course

Glorious Goodwood graces the equine and social calendar again this month. The going at the beautiful course is down to one man and his team. Liane Oldham met Seamus Buckley

When it comes to horseracing you can rely on an Irishman and Seamus Buckley is no exception. He has been Goodwoods Clerk of the Course for 18 years now and, together with his team, is responsible for everything from the horses, the stabling, dealing with the owners, trainers and jockeys and, of course, the all important condition of the racecourse surface itself.

The decision on whether some of the best racehorses in the world will compete at Goodwood hangs on Seamuss course maintenance and his subsequent Going Report.

Goodwood is known in the trade as an undulating course in that there are a lot of up hills and down dales, so it is imperative the course is kept in top condition to ensure the safety of both horse and rider. This is no easy feat when you factor in the unpredictability of good old British summertime. It takes a lot of patience and experience as well as a sound knowledge of horsemanship, all of which Seamus has mastered throughout his life.

Born at Rathasker Stud Farm near Naas, Co. Kildare, Ireland which his father managed, Seamus has been surrounded by ponies and horses for as long as he can remember. A keen showjumper and three day eventer as a boy, he first came to England to ride professionally over jumps, serving his apprentice as a National Hunt jockey when he was 15 years old. However, when he was 20 he suffered a racing accident at Doncaster, fracturing his skull in five places.

I wasnt allowed to race ride again and had to forge out another career, so I decided, with the experience I already had of the race world, to go into racecourse management, said Seamus.

That was 40 years ago.

I started at Catterick Bridge in Yorkshire and then moved to Epsom where I was responsible not only for the racing surface itself but also for Epsoms 300+ acres of surrounding land. I prepared Epsom for 13 Derbys which I was, and still am, very proud of, he said.

Following an approach by Rod Fabricious, then Managing Director of Goodwood Racecourse, Seamus came to settle in Sussex.

I enjoy every minute of working up here at Goodwood. Its my job to uphold the standards of the British Horse Association. Owners enter up their horses to run here and to help them decide the type of ground they need I have to provide the best ground assessment possible.

To do this a Going Report is released to the racing press six days before a race meeting and it is based on this report that an owner and trainer chooses whether or not their horses will race at Goodwood.

Now for the science. Seamus was instrumental in bringing in a new, more technically sophisticated way of testing the surface of the race course the Trax Going Stick as it is known, is pushed into the surface turf of the course at no less than 84 places.

This then produces an average reading which can be measured against what is known as the Legend, basically a scale of how firm or soft the ground is:

Legend reading:
14 = Hard
12= Firm
10 = Good to Firm
8 = Good
6 = Good to Soft
4 = Soft
2 = Heavy

A Going Report can take up to an hour and a half to produce and Seamus also has the use of another tried and trusted friend in this task.

One of my lads goes out with the Trax Stick first but I always like to follow that up with my own three mile walk around the course, pushing my trusty walking stick into the ground. Ive instinctively learnt over the years from the feel of the turf what the going is likely to be and Im usually right, thank God.

Traditionally, on race day the Going Report is passed to Chairperson of the Stewards Panel who sanctions the Going description from the Clerk of the Course and the race commences.

This simple process has gone on for hundreds of years and is the linchpin of racing but behind it is a huge amount of preparation and hard work.

Due to its undulating character and free drainage a course such
as Goodwood needs careful maintenance before, during and after the race season in order to maintain peak condition.

Owners and trainers arent lovers of hard ground. Says Seamus. The perfect condition for racing is, of course, Good to Firm where the turf is quite firm but theres a little cushion or spring to it as well. If my stick goes in about three inches for example then Im pretty confident theres plenty of moisture so the horses will be able to let themselves down for the gallop and not get jarred up.

Seamus believes in the foolproof format of Cutting, Feeding, Watering and Aerating the turf in order to get the perfect racing conditions.

If those four procedures are carried out correctly then youve almost won the race!

Each course in Britain has its own particular racing surface depending on the area.

Thats the great thing about British racing. Says Seamus. Each course has its own idiosyncrasies and each horse will respond differ-ently to each course. I always think a good horse should be able to run on any course. Some horses seem to develop a liking to a particular one. We have seen some who come back year after year. Double Trigger won the Goodwood Cup three times and Yeats, the only horse to have won the Ascot Gold Cup four times in succession and possibly the best racehorse Ive seen on the flat, loved it here at Goodwood.

This year the best racehorse in the world, Frankel, will lead 37 entries for the Sussex Stakes during Glorious Goodwood.

When you are getting the course ready for a horse such as Frankel, I consider that a real honour, says Seamus.

The walls of Seamuss office up at the racecourse are covered in photos of him with famous jockeys. Its also my job to be close to the jockeys and the trainers. The day before a race meeting Im likely to get up to 40 last minute phone calls from them just checking various details about the course etc. Ive got to know great jockeys like Lester Piggott, Willy Carson, Kevin Darley and Kieren Fallon very well over the years.

Seamus is at pains to emphasise that its very much a team effort which ensures that Goodwood has won many awards over the years including the Best Kept Racecourse which is judged by the jockeys and trainers.

My biggest honour, as well as getting my licence to become Clerk of the Course and Diploma in Turf Husbandry, is working with a wonderful team behind me. Says Seamus proudly.

Living just down the road from the racecourse, in Singleton village, Seamus loves the Sussex life.

Living here means Im part of a community I really like being involved in. Every time I come to work in the morning up here on the racecourse and look across the valley, I see something different. And when I walk the course alone on a Sunday morning, I think to myself Im a very lucky man.

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