He’s also the only living jockey – and one of a select group of riders – to have had the privilege of riding in National Hunt and Flat racing’s ultimate contests.
They include Harry Barker who was runner up in the 1893 Epsom Derby aboard Ravensbury just weeks after finishing second in the National at Aintree on Aesop.
More recently Willie Robinson, who died last year, was second in the 1958 Derby on Hard Ridden and then victorious in the 1964 National on Team Spirit. He also rode the legendary chaser Mill House in its rivalry with Arkle.
But these past deeds do help illustrate Crowley’s horsemanship – and his growing success on the flat – after his all-too-brief 2001 National ride on Martin Pipe’s Art Brief in the monsoon year when Red Marauder won.
And, in this respect, he remains indebted to his riding stint over jumps while based in West Yorkshire with showjumping legend Harvey Smith and his wife Sue.
Even now, he is pinching himself that today will be his fourth Derby ride – provided the ground is not too soft – and that Mohaafeth, trained by Yorkshire-born William Haggas, is a leading contender after winning all three starts this season in increasingly impressive style.
“It just doesn’t seem possible,” Crowley tells The Yorkshire Post with the disbelief discernible in his voice. “A million miles away. Just never dreamt of it.
“It’s just crazy how things have worked out. I have been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time – none more so than with Sue and Harvey.
“I have very fond memories there. I learned a hell of a lot and enjoyed my time there. Just the way Harvey in particular is around horses. There are very few left in racing – what I call natural horsemen.
“Just different things to do with how to manage horses and get the best out of them. Harvey didn’t get the best horses sent to him – whether show jumping or racing. He got the best out of them. And still does.”
Yet, after switching codes to make the most of his relatively light weight and realisation that he would never be a match for the likes of the record-breaking AP McCoy over jumps, Crowley has not looked back. He became champion jockey in 2016 before becoming retained rider to the world-famous owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum.
They enjoyed many great days on the track in the iconic blue and white colours – notably with top miler Mohaather and sprinting superstar Battaash. However the Sheikh’s death in March this year means that today’s race will be a poignant occasion for the 43-year-old jockey.
“Mohaafeth is a very exciting ride,” said Crowley ahead of a Derby that many expect to be dominated by Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet. “It’s nice to go there (Epsom) with a good live chance in the Classic. To get to ride in these big races is hard enough – to get on one of the more fancied runners is even harder.
“I’m just sorry Sheikh Hamdan can’t be there to wish us well – hopefully he will be looking down on us. I owe him a lot.
“When I became champion jockey, and was appointed his retained rider, it took my career to a new level and gave me the chance to ride some of the best-bred horses in many of the better races.”
This has also enabled Crowley to ride for trainers like the aforementioned Haggas who is seeking his second Derby win 25 years after he won at the race at his very attempt in 1996 when Shaamit prevailed.
Haggas, too, spent his formative years jump racing in Yorkshire – his late mother Christine Feather owned the 1982 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Silver Buck, a multiple big race winner, who was trained at Harewood by Michael Dickinson.
More recently, Haggas has trained the globetrotting Group One winner Addeybb and Crowley knows that Mohaafeth has been trained to perfection.
“I don’t think the form of his races has been strong,” added Crowley. “The manner in which he has won his three races this year has been impressive, though, and he’s improved with every run. I like the horse. He’s a nice size, well balanced and should handle the track. He has a nice manner and is in a good place. William is also not a man for running horses in races that he is not hoping to win.”
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