Respected Trainer and Breeder Joe Crowley Dies at 91


Joe Crowley pictured at home in 2010 | Racing Post


Joe Crowley, one of the most popular and respected as well as one of the most significant figures in Irish racing in recent decades, has passed away at the age of 91. He enjoyed notable success as both trainer and breeder, while further glory has been brought to his farm at Owning Hill near Piltown in Co. Kilkenny at various times by his daughters Annemarie and Frances, by his son-in-law Aidan O'Brien and, currently, by his grandson Joseph O'Brien.

Joe Crowley began life as a farmer but his love of horses and racing meant that he would inevitably be drawn ever deeper into the sport. His first forays were as a breeder, with his first notable achievement being as breeder of Spindrifter (Ire) (Sandford Lad {Ire}) who, trained by Sir Mark Prescott, secured his place in the history of the turf by winning 13 races in England as a 2-year-old in 1980, thus equalling the 20th century British record for wins by a juvenile. Another horse to advertise Crowley's eye for a horse at that time was Bregawn (Ire) (Saint Denys {Ire}) who passed through his hands before beginning his racing career, the highlight of which came when he led home Michael Dickinson's 'Famous Five' in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup, having won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury earlier in the season.

Encouraged, no doubt, by the success enjoyed by his equine proteges, Crowley took out a training licence. His first flag-bearer was Ravaro (Ire), an inexpensively-produced daughter of Raga Navarro (Ity) who displayed all the toughness which has become the hallmark of Owning Hill-trained horses, winning 15 races (nine on the Flat and six over hurdles) including both the Saval Beg S. at Leopardstown and the Irish Cesarewitch H. at the Curragh in 1985. She also registered notable minor placings in England when runner-up in the G1 Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and in the Queen Alexandra S. at Royal Ascot.

Never a man to chase the limelight, Crowley handed over the licence at Owning Hill to his eldest daughter Annemarie once she was ready to take over. The stable continued to go from strength to strength under her stewardship and in the 1992/'93 season she became the first (and, to date, only) woman to win the country's National Hunt trainers' championship. One of her stars of that season was the redoubtable mare Bayrouge (Ire) (Gorytus) who won nine races that term including the G1 Country Pride Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown with her father as the proud owner/breeder.

The following season saw another name-change on the stable's training licence: Annemarie's husband Aidan O'Brien stepped into the role, winning the first of his five consecutive National Hunt trainers' championships in his first season. Again Joe Crowley was the owner of one of the stable's stars: Glenstal Flagship (Ire) (Glenstal) carried his colours to victory in the G1 Murphy's Irish Stout Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle at Punchestown in April 1994.

When Aidan O'Brien was recruited by John Magnier to train at Ballydoyle, initially he maintained his National Hunt string, which included the triple G1 Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), at Owning Hill. However, as the operation at Ballydoyle expanded in tandem with its success, the decision was taken that that would be O'Brien's sole focus. The Piltown stable, therefore, was taken over by Joe Crowley's second daughter Frances, whose name was already in the record-books for having become the first female rider to win Ireland's amateurs' championship in 1995 (before sharing the title with Willie Mullins the following year). High-class winners continued to come out of Owning Hill including 1998 G1 Chiquita Drinmore Novice Chase winner Promalee (Ire) (Homo Sapien {Ire}); Sackville (Ire) (Satco {Fr}), a Grade 1 winner over hurdles at Aintree and over fences at Fairyhouse twice; and the 1999 G2 Galway Plate hero Moscow Express (Ire) (Moscow Society).

Frances, married to champion Flat jockey Pat Smullen, subsequently relocated to Clifton Lodge at the Curragh, from which stable she carved her name even more deeply into the history-books by becoming the first woman to train an Irish Classic winner when sending out Saoire (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) to win the G1 Boylesports Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2005.

Once Frances had moved away, Joe Crowley resumed his former position as the trainer at Owning Hill. He had recently become a Classic-winning breeder (in partnership with Aidan and Annemarie O'Brien) courtesy of the seven-time Group 1 winner Rock Of Gibraltar (Ire) (Danehill) who won the 2,000 Guineas in both England and Ireland in 2002. In his second incarnation as a trainer, he sent out approximately 150 winners between 2003 and 2009, when he finally retired at the age of 80.

The highlight during this period was arguably the victory of Hairy Molly (Ire) (Shernazar {GB}) in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in 2006, while black-type success was also achieved with the likes of Blue Corrig (Ire) (Darnay {Ire}) on the Flat, Paco Jack (Ire) (Soviet Star) over hurdles and Golden Storm (Ire) (Magical Wonder) over fences. The latter was a proper trouper, winning four times on the Flat, twice over hurdles and five times in steeplechases. A victory which must have given his trainer particular pleasure came when Golden Storm won an amateurs' race at Tralee in August 2004, ridden by his daughter Angela, who is married to Kevin O'Ryan.

The trainer at Piltown is now Joe Crowley's grandson Joseph O'Brien, who has already written further glorious chapters into the family's success story not only as a champion jockey but also as a Classic-winning, Breeders' Cup-winning and Melbourne Cup-winning trainer. It surely won't be long before Joseph's younger brother Donnacha, Ireland's champion Flat jockey of both 2018 and '19, becomes the latest top-class trainer to emerge from the family.

Joe Crowley is survived by his wife Sarah and his daughters Annemarie, Teresa, Frances, Breda (who is married to former jockey Trevor Horgan), Angela and Monika. He leaves them, his sons-in-law and his grandchildren a great legacy of racing success and the TDN offers them our condolences.

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