1.1479880-2535466565
Pat Buckley was a livewire of the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club after shifting to the UAE capital for the last three decades. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Jockeys wore black armbands at Meydan at Thursday’s meeting in memory of Pat Buckley, the Grand National-winning jockey and racing pioneer who was an inspirational figure in the sport in the UAE.

Buckley, who famously rode rank outsider Ayala to win the Grand National way back in 1963, passed away at the age of 77. He is survived by his wife Sarah and children Helen and Kevin, who wrote on Twitter: “Rest in peace Dad. We’ll miss you so much. ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’.”

Buckley had served as apprentice to trainer Captain Neville Crump after leaving Ireland in 1957, with his finest moment in the saddle coming when he steered 66-1 shot Ayala to success at Aintree for Keith Piggott, father of Lester, as a 19-year-old jockey.

Among other successes, Buckley also won the Whitbread Gold Cup in 1963 and 1964 on Hoodwinked and Dormant and the 1968 Scottish Grand National on Arcturus.

We can only send our condolences to his family here and in the UK. He was an integral part of the inaugural running of the [Dubai] World Cup and he mentored us when we came over here. It’s a great loss and the world’s a smaller place without him

- Richard Mullen, jockey

Tributes poured in for a man admired for his horsemanship, generosity and dedication to racing during his time spent in popularising racing in the UAE and the surrounding region. After retiring from riding, Buckley first travelled to Oman in 1978 where he spent 10 years helping the local Jockey Club establish a racecourse and equestrian facility. He was then asked to help in the creation of a racing industry starting in Abu Dhabi.

Buckley made the move to the UAE in 1990, where he oversaw the first meeting at Abu Dhabi Racecourse in 1991 and remained a prominent figure in the UAE for the next three decades.

Always ready with a kind word for all around him, Buckley played a key part in the first running of the Dubai World Cup in 1996. His passion and love for the sport was infectious, and add to this was his great skills in administration.

Two-time UAE champion rider Richard Mullen described his death as “a great loss”.

“The whole of the UAE has lost a dear friend in Pat Buckley. I’ve been here for 22 years, and counting, and Pat’s been a big part in racing here and part of my life. He’s been a great friend to me and the UAE will be a quieter place without him,” Mullen was quoted in the Racing Sport.

“We can only send our condolences to his family here and in the UK. He was an integral part of the inaugural running of the [Dubai] World Cup and he mentored us when we came over here. It’s a great loss and the world’s a smaller place without him,” he added.

Godolphin jockey William Buick also paid tributes. “I’m very sorry to hear of Pat Buckley’s passing and my condolences to his family and close friends. It’s incredibly sad,” Buick said.

“I knew him quite well from my days going to Abu Dhabi and he was always very friendly. He was the ultimate professional. It’s a sad day for racing, not only in the UAE, but across the world,” he added.