Crowley Born To Excel At Ascot

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Jim Crowley had a memorable Royal Ascot with six winners | Racing Post

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Among some memorable performances at Royal Ascot last week, two that stood out at opposite ends of the distance spectrum were provided by Battaash (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Stradivarius (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}). The sprinter and the stayer may be poles apart in some respects, but what they share is the fact that, at the age of six, they have been around long enough to be taken to the hearts of the racing public. Six also unites their respective jockeys, Jim Crowley and Frankie Dettori, as that was the number of winners they each chalked up at Ascot, Crowley with a first-day treble, and Dettori snatching the leading rider title by pulling off the same feat on the final day and being ahead on the countback for the number of placed finishes.

Crowley knows all about stayers, especially of the jumping variety from his former days as a National Hunt jockey but, now in his fourth season as the number one retained rider for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, he has had the privilege of being the regular partner of the one of the world's fastest horses.

“Battaash is unbelievable to ride,” says Crowley, who has been in the saddle for 13 of Battaash's 21 starts, including his three Group 1 victories, most recently in the King's Stand S. “I've ridden nice sprinters in the past but he is head and shoulders above anything I've ever sat on. He has so much natural speed, it's scary really because there's nothing quick enough in a race to lead him, or if they do lead him it's pretty much only for a furlong.”

He continues, “It was nice for him to win at Ascot because the track wouldn't be tailor-made for him, it almost rides like 5½ furlongs and we've been beaten by a marvellous horse both times previously, who basically has just out-stayed him really. Obviously it was important for him to win this year to get the three up—he's now done the Nunthorpe, the Abbaye and the King's Stand, and I think he feels as good as ever at six years old.”

The champion jockey of 2016, Crowley is based in Sussex at the famous Coombelands estate where his father-in-law Guy Harwood trained before handing over to his daughter (and Crowley's sister-in-law) Amanda Perrett. Crowley's role, however, takes him far and wide, not just for race meetings but for work mornings of the 13 different trainers who are honing the various members of the Shadwell string. Rarely, though, is he given the leg-up on the wily old Battaash at Charlie Hills's Lambourn stable.

Crowley says, “I don't actually ride him work that often because he's such an intelligent horse and he knows as soon as I get on him. When I went to ride him work there two weeks before Ascot I just walked home on the gallops afterwards and I was buzzing because you actually forget how good he is. I'm very fortunate to ride nice horses all the time but riding him is literally like getting in a Formula 1 car. The feel he gives you, even on the gallops at home: he never puts in a bad day, he never works badly, he's just a real pleasure to be around.”

He adds, “I suppose it's nice that he's a gelding because if he were a colt we might not even have seen him at four, so it's marvellous that he's been around a while and I think a lot of people have really taken to him.”

 

With his Group 1 success, Battaash may have been the crowning jewel of a right royal week for the jockey, but Crowley's winners came across the grades and distances and for five different trainers.

“At the start of the year I thought we would have a really nice team of horses coming through and that's been proved right so far really,” he says.

“But you can often go to Ascot thinking that and then leave the place licking your wounds, because it's not an easy place to ride winners at all. So to get a treble on the first day, that really got the ball rolling. I thought I'd definitely have a couple and then three went in. I could have had four if Mohaather (GB) had had a clearer run in the Queen Anne, but you can't be too greedy.”

Crowley also helped to play a part in a memorable Ascot for the man who was formerly one of his National Hunt weighing-room colleagues, Owen Burrows, who registered a first win at the meeting with the progressive Hukum (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) in the King George V S.

“It was obviously nice to ride Owen's first winner there but to be honest it was just one of those weeks when all the horses ran really well, including the ones I didn't ride when we had three or four in a race,” Crowley reflects. “And that's all credit to the trainers because to go to Ascot, a lot of those horses were having their first run of the year, and to have them absolutely tuned up, I'm sure that hasn't been easy.”

Unlike his fellow leading rider Dettori, Crowley is not one who actively seeks the limelight but he is readily approachable and certainly still hungry for success. Since his championship year, when he rode 189 winners—24 more than the runner-up Silvestre de Sousa, who had been champion the previous season—he has barely let his grip loosen, and he has notched annual tallies well into three figures in each of the three subsequent seasons. He may not crave the hoopla, but he certainly excels on the main stage. This year, of course, the Flat season so far has been a play with all the leading actors in place but with no audience present, and nowhere is that emptiness felt more keenly than at Royal Ascot.

“With the crowds not being there it did feel a little bit different but it didn't feel any less important to ride winners there,” Crowley says. “It meant just as much, but obviously it would have been lovely to come in and for Sheikh Hamdan to have been there and the crowd, but it was still very gratifying.”

He adds, “It's just great to be back really. Funnily enough, my first day back was an absolute nightmare. I went to Newcastle and I was beaten on a very short odds-on shot, and I had one slip over backwards in the stalls, and then I got brought down out the back. So it wasn't a great start but obviously things picked up through the week and a couple of days later Nazeef won the Snowdrop at Kempton.”

The 4-year-old Nazeef (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) may be lightly raced but she has done little wrong in her six starts and, as her progression this season from victory in the listed Snowdrop Fillies' S. over former 1000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook (GB) to G2 Duke of Cambridge S. winner at Ascot suggests, this late developer may well be stepping up to Group 1 level before too long.

“Hopefully we can just keep going and I think we will because there were some really nice horses who won at Ascot,” says Crowley of the prospects of the Shadwell team for the remainder of the season. “Obviously a few of them have to step up from handicaps into group company now but hopefully they are capable of doing that.

“I gave the boss a call on Saturday night to go through them and he was obviously very happy. It's the most winners he has ever had at Royal Ascot so he was very pleased.”

For an operation such as Shadwell, what happens on the track isn't just cause for celebration when Sheikh Hamdan finishes a major meeting as the leading owner, but also has positive implications in the development of its broodmare band and future stallion prospects. This is now another factor on Crowley's agenda as he has familiarised himself over the last four years with the pedigrees of his daily mounts along with their racing form. As pedigrees go, there are few horses more exciting than that of his first winner following the Royal Meeting: Almighwar (GB). The 3-year-old colt is a son of Dubawi (Ire) and Sheikh Hamdan's Oaks heroine Taghrooda (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and was thus an important and impressive first winner on Sunday for his illustrious mother in her second career.

“I definitely take a real interest in that side of things,” he says. “When I first took the job on, and obviously it's a big operation with so many horses, it was difficult to get my head around it, but now I'm starting to ride the families and you can understand their different traits and things like that. With so many horses it's hard to keep up all the time but I do enjoy it.”

At 41, Crowley has been race-riding for over half of his life and is arguably in his prime, with a retainer for one of the sport's major owners and the opportunity to ride a wide variety of well-bred horses. He admits that his own 7-year-old son is snapping at his heels and urging him out of bed in the mornings to ensure that he is able to take to the fresh gallops on his pony ahead of his aunt's racehorses, and higher up the age ladder there are some talented junior members of the weighing-room with which to compete, not least the current champion jockey, 24-year-old Oisin Murphy.

“Oisin has done remarkably well,” Crowley says. “Tom Marquand has made giant strides, as has his partner Hollie Doyle, who is a fantastic jockey. I think she's really good and I wouldn't say 'for a girl', she's just generally good all round. I think nowadays there's so much more information for the jockeys out there, with jockey coaches, and being able to watch all their replays. Jockeys on the whole are getting better as time goes on.”

He adds, “And on the flip side of the coin, the senior jockeys are riding for much longer because we take care of ourselves. Jockeys are probably more athletes nowadays than anything else. I run everyday. Even if I've got five or six rides that day, I'd still run in the morning or go to the gym, and I know Ryan Moore is the same, and Frankie is the same. If you do that and you eat right, you can definitely prolong your career. When I first went into racing you would never see a jockey running on the track before racing started.”

Crowley certainly has plenty of enticement to maintain peak fitness, not least the prospect of being reunited with Battaash throughout the season.

“I think the plan is to go back to Goodwood to try to make it four in the King George Stakes and then obviously up to York,” he says of the sprinter's options for the coming months. “Then we have the decision to make about whether or not he goes back for the Abbaye, or whether Sheikh Hamdan and Charlie [Hills] decide to take him to America. He's got nothing to prove but it would be lovely to see him win abroad somewhere.”

For Crowley, however, the sprinter's most pleasing win, even with no crowd present, is likely to remain his Group 1 at Ascot. The jockey was delivered into this world back in 1978 at Heatherwood Hospital, which sits almost in the shadow of the racecourse's huge grandstand. You could say, when it came to racing, he was indeed to the manner born.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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