Author: Duane Fonseca

ONE OF Britain’s top riders, Jim Crowley hopes to kill two birds with one stone and admits it would be brilliant to break his Classic duck in Shadwell’s blue. Crowley has rattled the crossbar thrice in Britain when finishing runner-up in the 2013 Epsom Oaks and twice in the St Leger in 2014 and 2017.

And one of the things the former British Champion Jockey yearns for most is to win and tick that off his wish list in the world famous blue and white colours of chief employer, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Crowley led Secret Gesture to second behind Talent in the Oaks at Epsom and then was second on Talent when riding her in the St Leger at Doncaster that same year.

Four years later, he was runner-up in the St Leger again when partnering Crystal Ocean, who finished an agonising half a length behind Capri. And, having come so close, Crowley is keen to find that extra bit that will help him over the line. “If you ask me one of the races that I’d really want to win I’d have to say I would really like to win a Classic for Sheikh Hamdan,” Crowley told Al Adiyat.

“Obviously, I’ve been placed in Classics and they’re not easy to win because there’s only five in England and I think I would really like to win Sheikh Hamdan one of those races. “It’s something that I would really want to do; to tick the box off. I’ve been Champion Jockey in Britain and ridden big Group One winners, but to win Sheikh Hamdan a Classic is something I really want to do.

It would be great.” Crowley nailed the job as Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider in 2016 after securing his first and only British Jockeys’ Championship honour and the 42yo has played a pivotal role in Sheikh Hamdan winning a magnificent seventh British Owners’ Championship honour in 2020, while also topping the owners’ rankings at Royal Ascot with six wins, as well as leading the way at Glorious Goodwood and the York Ebor meeting.

The year might have been fraught with obstacles due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Crowley flourished and with him did Sheikh Hamdan. Crowley performed at a strike rate of 17%, scoring 80 wins from 474 rides to finish eighth in the British Jockeys’ Championship behind winner Oisin Murphy. And he dubbed 2020 an ‘amazing season’ which began with him winning the Group 2 Meydan Sprint aboard the Doug Watson-trained Waady.

He enjoyed five top level successes, with Charles Hills’ speed ace Battaash helping himself to wins in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, the John Gosdenschooled Nazeef winning Newmarket’s Falmouth and Sun Chariot Stakes in July and October respectively.

Marcus Tregoning’s Mohaather’s success in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood was a fifth Group One success for the year. Crowley rode a further seven wins at Group Two level and had another five Group Three victories. He said: “We had an amazing season and, obviously, it was one of those years when everything went pretty much right.

“We had a wonderful Royal Ascot with six winners. Battaash was brilliant as well and the season just became better and better as it went forward. “Mohaather winning the Sussex Stakes was a big day for the team as well and also Nazeef winning two Group Onea was really good. She is an exceptional filly.

So it’s just fantastic because there’s some nice strength and depth in the ranks with younger horses: the 2yos and 3yos, and then the older horses. “It was just a shame that under the circumstances Sheikh Hamdan couldn’t be there to watch because I know he’d have taken huge pleasure from watching those horses win and it was just a fantastic season.”

Crowley’s career has been very well documented, with his switch from a National Hunt rider to a Flat racing champion of Britain quite the story, and he feels thankful to be associated with the Shadwell brand which has helped him scale new heights. “It’s a real honour to be riding for Shadwell. It is a massive operation and one of the biggest in the world and I get to ride some lovely horses and we’ve had some good success together,” Crowley said. “We’ve been very lucky and I’ve been very lucky to ride some exceptional horses. I think Battaash is one of the best sprinters we’ve seen in a long time. So it’s a real honour and a pleasure and it’s a job I enjoy very much.”

Battaash running in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint would have been spectacular, but the race’s reversal back to a 6f trip in 2017 after being dropped for a few years to 5f in 2011, has put paid to that hope. Crowley however is very much looking forward to the spectacle of him returning to defend his numerous titles this year.

The 7yo Dark Angel gelding has won Goodwood’s Group 2 King George Stakes four times on the spin since 2017 and posted consecutivewins in York’s Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes in 2019 and 2020, with Royal Ascot’s Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes added to his repertoire at the third time of asking last year.

“Battaash is a 5f horse and they changed the distance for the Al Quoz Sprint from 5f to 6f and it’s difficult for him to win that race over the wrong trip,” Crowley said. “If it was a 5f race it would have been a different story. I think that’s the main reason why he hasn’t come, but he’s won all the major 5f Group Ones and I think this year it would be nice for him to win at Glorious Goodwood for the fifth time, claim the King’s Stand again and the Nunthorpe too.

He’s a very, very special horse.” Crowley looks back at his career with m u c h satisfaction. “It’s all paying dividends now with me getting to ride some of those big horses. I’ve really enjoyed it, but I’ve put in a lot of hard work to get to where I am. I started at the bottom,” he said. A look back at 2020 seems to have made him more appreciative of things.

“I think everybody’s had to appreciate things that came for granted like the crowds and the prize money, which has seen a big drop all over the world,” Crowley said. “I think 2020 made everybody appreciate what we had and I am looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality with people being able to go back racing. I had a fantastic year in terms of winners and was very successful and I can only hope we have a really good 2021, but like I said it was a tough season for some people and I was very fortunate.”