CHAMPION jockey Jim Crowley’s photo-finish win aboard Ulysses in the prestigious Coral-Eclipse Stakes is the perfect illustration of horse racing’s fickleness.
The former jump rider, who began his career with Yorkshire’s Sue and Harvey Smith, was due to ride the Martyn Meade-trained Epsom Derby fourth Eminent before being ‘jocked off’.
Yet, with veteran trainer Sir Michael Stoute looking for a rider for Ulysses whose only poor run came in last year’s Derby, he did not hesitate to snap up Crowley’s services.
In a rough race in which Ryan Moore was very lucky to stay aboard Aidan O’Brien’s Cliffs Of Moher when the absence of early pace led to scrimmaging, Crowley came widest of all as horses, like the Silvestre de Sousa-ridden Eminent, faltered.
After the four-year-old burst clear, the only pursuer was Barney Roy as the winner of Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes finally found his stride under James Doyle.
The result was so close as both horses crossed the line that it took an eternity for the photo-finish to confirm that Ulysses had held on by no more than a pixel on the freeze-frame. It was that tight.
Things happen in life for a reason. You have to respect the decision and I don’t think I did too much wrong on Eminent, but it has worked out in my favourJockey Jim Crowley
“When you become champion jockey these are the races you should be and want to be winning,” said Crowley as he punched the air in celebration. “All credit to Sir Michael Stoute and the owners for giving me the go on him after Royal Ascot. To get the opportunity after how things have worked out has been fantastic.
“Things happen in life for a reason. You have to respect the decision and I don’t think I did too much wrong on Eminent, but it has worked out in my favour today. It’s number one. I’ve had Group One winners at Ascot, but the Eclipse it’s one of the big ones you want to win.”
A historic 10-furlong race in which older horses like Ulysses race against the Classic generation headed by Barney Roy who was second in the 2000 Guineas, York’s Juddmonte International next month could be the setting for a fascinating rematch.
However it appears Stoute, who was winning the Eclipse for a record-equalling sixth time, believes Ulysses maybe more effective over a mile-and-a-half while the Richard Hannon-trained Barney Roy could be saved for an Autumn campaign after three Group One tussles in just two months.
Stoute said: “I felt from the furlong marker he was always holding him, but my angle was bad and I didn’t have any idea if he had won or not, so it was a relief. It was nerve-wracking for a while.
“He is a very consistent, game horse and he has only ever had one blip in his life and that was in the Derby when he got turned over twice. He has never run a bad race.
“Thank God the result went right. I am delighted for the Niarchos family because they are big supporters. Today I thought Jim was very good, but they usually are if they win.
“He’s not as keen this year and settles better, so he’ll get a mile and a half.”
Asked about future plans, the trainer added: “Let’s go home and see how he is in 10 days’ time.
“I wouldn’t rule out going back up to a mile and a half as he won the Gordon Stakes last year and ran a big race at Santa Anita (fourth in Breeders’ Cup Turf).”
As for the aforementioned Hannon, he was delighted Barney Roy on his first start beyond a mile.
“He is good horse and he is getting better. We are delighted, he has run a super race. He was just shade unlucky,” he said.
“I’m very proud of him and the team, it was a good effort. He will be a very good middle-distance horse for this year and next year. He is in a lot of good races.”