Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Grand National: Peter Buchanan aims to emerge from Tony McCoy's shadow

Final straight: Peter Buchanan wants to win the Grand National on his fifth try

Peter Buchanan gets the chance to put one over on fellow Ulsterman Tony McCoy in today's Grand National at Aintree.

It took the racing legend 15 attempts to land the big one – Buchanan aims to conquer the world's most famous race at the fifth time of asking when he rides Ulster hope Big Shu.

Buchanan, like most jockeys, is rarely mentioned in the same breath as McCoy, but the 35-year-old from Saintfield has carved out a successful career in the hard and unforgiving world of jump racing.

McCoy – who will this month be crowned champion jockey for an unprecedented 19th successive time – has over 200 winners this season while Buchanan is closing in on his half century.

McCoy is miles clear at the top of the jockey championship, while Buchanan just about squeezes into the top 20.

But Buchanan's successes have reaped almost £400,000 in prize money this season – that's a heck of a lot of oats and hay.

"I have ridden in the Grand National four times, completing it twice," said Buchanan, who is based at Lucinda Russell's yard near Perth.

"There's so much hype involved in the build-up to the Grand National but it's great to be involved.

"I enjoy the challenge of the big fences – I don't find them intimidating. I grew up doing hunting and eventing so I am used to big fences.

"The most daunting thing about the race is the size of the field.

"Usually you might get between 10 and 20 horses in a race but there's 40 in the National so you need a bit of luck as there are plenty of fallers round about you.

"Hopefully I'll get a good, clear run.

"I have ridden a winner over the Grand National fences, in the Grand Sefton a few years ago."

Buchanan, from Saintfield, has always been involved with horses.

"I started as an amateur riding in point to points," said the jockey, whose uncle Ian Buchanan was a champion point to point rider.

"When I was a kid I used to go down to the nearby yard of David McBratney – his brother Colin is currently training – to help out.

"There were always horses about when I was growing up as my family was involved in showjumping.

"I went to university in Dublin where I rode in a lot of point to points for trainer Denise Foster and also got to know Peter Maher, who trains Big Shu. Then a job opportunity arose in England with the trainer Howard Johnston and about a year or so later I moved to Lucinda Russell's yard and I've been there for about 10 years.

"She used to have about 20 or 30 horses but she's up to about 100 now.

"The credit crunch didn't seem to hit Scottish racing as hard as it hit Irish racing."

Glamour doesn't figure too prominently in the life of most jockeys.

Buchanan explained: "I am in the yard five or six days a week, starting about 7.30am, and on four or five days I'll be racing in the afternoon.

"If I'm not racing, I'll spend the day at the yard working with the horses.

"I try to get as many rides as possible – I can ride for other trainers if Lucinda doesn't need me – and have an agent working on my behalf.

"I was delighted to get the ride on Big Shu. I used to ride as an amateur for Peter when I lived in Dublin.

"The bookies can't seem to settle on a price – he's a bit of an unknown quantity as he hasn't run in a race like the National before.

"But he should get the trip. If he gets a bit of luck in running, he definitely has a chance."

And it is an exciting time of the year for Buchanan, with the Scottish Grand National at Ayr next Saturday.

"Lucinda's having a great year and looks like she will set a Scottish record for the number of winners this season," he said.

"She has a few nice horses in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr.

"It can be difficult to decide which horse to ride. It's a bit of a guessing game because in a race like the Scottish National the horses you are choosing from may never have raced over the trip.

"The Scottish crowd get right behind any local horses in the Scottish National and it would certainly be very high on the list of races you would want to win, right behind the Grand National itself.

"I'm 35 now and have been second in quite a few of the big races and it would be nice to win one of the big ones before I call it a day, although hopefully I've a few years left yet."

Ulster great McCoy will turn 40 next month and Buchanan is convinced he will keep going for at least one more season, although a long-range target of 5,000 winners may be just out of reach.

"His record is absolutely phenomenal," said Buchanan.

"He will go for a 20th successive champion jockey title next season and after that, who knows – but 5,000 winners is a long way off as he would have to ride well into his 40s.

"For me, training is a possibility but I am still enjoying my riding and intend to keep going for a while yet.

"I've lived in Scotland for a long time now but I still love coming home. I could see myself returning to live there at some stage."

Like most jump jockeys, Buchanan has suffered his fair share of broken bones and other injuries.

But an injury in the days leading up to the National would have been the most painful of all.

"You don't think about getting injured in a race just before the Grand National, you just get on with the job. But this week is certainly one of the most exciting of the year," he said.

Buchanan is fortunate in not facing a constant battle with the scales.

He explained: "I watch what I eat but in terms of putting weight on, I suppose I'm quite lucky compared to some other jockeys. It's not a struggle for me."

But being a jump jockey is one hard game.

Few would begrudge Peter Buchanan becoming a National hero today.

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