HOW times change. Twelve months ago Jim Crowley was chasing winners up and down the country in his ultimately successful quest to become champion jockey.
Now, with his great rival Silvestre de Sousa enjoying a seemingly unassailable lead in this year’s title race, Crowley is putting quality before quantity.
It is paying off. He won Sandown’s Coral-Eclipse on Ulysses, one of the favourites for today’s £1m Juddmonte International over 10 furlongs, and partners sprint star Battaash in Friday’s Nunthorpe Stakes.
They are enviable rides for a late blossoming rider who was a National Hunt jockey attached to Sue and Harvey Smith’s wind-swept stables on Baildon Moor before making a seamless transition to the Flat in 2006.
“If you ask any jockey what they would rather ride, they will always chase quality over quantity,” Crowley told The Yorkshire Post ahead of York’s showpiece meeting.
“I did it last year and I was champion jockey. It got me into the position that I am in today. I love riding winners, whether it a seller or a handicap, but the big races is what motivates you.
“I’m second in the table, but with my retainer (to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum), it’s difficult to beat Silvestre who rides as a freelance. That said, I’m on very good horses and couldn’t be happier.”
Yet it was only when Crowley was jocked off Marytn Meade’s Eminent ahead of last month’s Coral-Eclipse, ironically in favour of the aforementioned de Sousa, that he was snapped up to ride the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses.
The result was a career-defining win for Crowley as Ulysses – who just held off the late challenge of Royal Ascot winner Barney Roy, who reopposes today in a fascinating race, the richest ever staged in Yorkshire, that also includes Aidan O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner Churchill.
“That’s racing,” said a phlegmatic Crowley when asked about his sport’s fickleness. “Swings and roundabouts. It won’t be the first time – or the last – but it was great to pick up the ride and very satisfying to win.”
However, while Churchill is stepping up in trip to 10 furlongs, Crowley’s mount is dropping back in distance after chasing home Oaks heroine Enable – the horse of the year – in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
As the older horse, Ulysses also has to concede seven pounds in weight to the three-year-olds Barney Roy and Churchill, which provides added intrigue to this much-anticipated clash.
That said, the champion jockey believes quick ground will bring out the best in Ulysses who struggled to handle Ascot’s softer conditions. “It’s going to be fascinating. I think it is one of the best Juddmontes for many years,” said Crowley.
It also helps, says the rider, that Ulysses is trained by a “genius” in the aforementioned Stoute who is seeking to win the International for a record sixth occasion. “Anyone who has been around for as long as him, and top of the game for so long, deserves respect,” he said. “He can make horses improve as the season goes on. Normally, with Sir Michael Stoute, they are going forward, not backward, and it’s a great honour to ride for him. He’s a top man and easy to ride for.”
Born near Ascot racecourse, where his parents trained point-to-pointers and reared him on a diet of hunting and show jumping, Crowley’s only ride in the Grand National did not last very long. His mount, Art Prince, fell at the first fence in the 2001 Aintree spectacular won by Red Marauder.
The run to the first fence is almost as long as the Nunthorpe, which will take less than a minute to complete as Crowley’s mount Battaash, so impressive at Goodwood, takes on Royal Ascot heroine Lady Aurelia. There will be no hard luck stories, says Crowley, because the pair will be blazing a trail. “My lad was very impressive at Goodwood and he’s got to go and do it again,” added Crowley.
After a season of surprises – Crowley’s mount Here Comes When beat Richard Fahey’s Ribchester in Goodwood’s Group One Sussex Stakes – this is a jockey who has more than proved himself and will never again be under-estimated.