Jim Crowley defied huge odds to win a first jockeys championship
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By Mark Scully 1:30PM 24 NOV 2016
IT IS widely accepted that 2016 has been a bit of a downer in general but Jim Crowley will be among the few who look back at it with tremendous fondess when we finally tick over into 2017 and beyond.
The 38-year-old surely could never have imagined 12 months ago that he would find himself in the position he now does but here he is nonetheless – not only the newly-minted champion jockey but now the number one rider for powerful owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
Few ever doubted Crowley was a gifted rider but his ascent to the top table has been remarkable, having started the 2016 campaign as a 50-1 shot to get his hands on the trophy at Ascot on Champions Day.
Former life over jumps
Born near Ascot to parents of point-to-point stock, Crowley’s introduction to riding came in the hunting and showjumping spheres and his career in the saddle began over obstacles, despite showing promise as an amateur on the Flat.
In all, Crowley did the steering aboard some 300 winners over the jumps, working for Grand National-winning trainer Sue Smith. Crowley himself made just the one appearance in the world’s most famous steeplechase, coming down at the very first fence on the Martin Pipe-trained Art Prince in 2001
The switch of codes came a decade ago as he teamed up with sister-in-law Amanda Perrett, having come to the realisation he would not be able to reach the heights he had hoped in the National Hunt game.
A position as stable jockey for Ralph Beckett came in 2010 before Crowley went freelance in the summer of 2014.
A key connection
It is fair to say Crowley’s rapidly improving fortunes can be traced back to his linking up with renowned jockeys agent Tony Hind, who has masterminded the campaigns of seven of the last 11 championship-winning riders.
The Racing Post’s own Lee Mottershead was moved to tip Crowley at big odds for the title back in March after a conversation with Hind in which the agent’s ambitions were made crystal clear.
“When Jim came to me, he told me he wanted to finish in the top five,” Hind recalled, Crowley having finished seventh in last season’s standings.
“I said to him: ‘If you want to finish in the top five, you shouldn’t be on my books. Why don’t you want to win it?’ I told him he was no good to me if he only wanted to finish fifth.
“I then told him we’d be going for the title.”
Moonrise Landing’s Good Friday success was an early 2016 highlight
PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
The incredible run
Crowley served notice early in the year that he meant business with a superb ride aboard Moonrise Landing to win the All-Weather Marathon Championship at Lingfield on Good Friday but it took a while for his title charge to really heat up.
Still available at 33-1 in August, Crowley emerged from the pack to close the gap on reigning champion Silvestre De Sousa with 38 winners that month and the race was really on.
If August struck the match, September was the month the fire truly took hold. Admitting he was by this stage “obsessed” with the battle, Crowley re-wrote the record books with a scarcely believable 46 winners, more than any jockey had ever posted in a calendar month in Britain.
By now, the writing was on the wall and De Sousa was all but admitting defeat in his bid to retain his crown, although Crowley consistently refused to believe it was done until he had his hands on the prize on October 15.
Crowley: “Hopefully my kids will be proud of me”
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Day of days
Having looked for a while like going down to the wire, Crowley eased down into his ultimate victory, notching a grand total of 148 winners compared to De Sousa’s 132, the win effectively sealed days before its official conclusion.
Reflecting on the scale of his achievement, Crowley said: “Even now I’ve won it I can’t quite believe it but I’m so proud. I’ve achieved something worthwhile and hopefully my kids will be proud of me. For every jockey it’s their ambition. To do it is without doubt the highlight of my career.
“Coming from jumping it’s not really something I set out to when I started riding on the Flat. It seemed a million miles away.”
Crowley also spoke on that day of his desire to take the next step and become a regular on the big stage in a bid to add to his three Group 1 wins with Lord Shanakill in the 2009 Prix Jean Prat, Prohibit in the 2011 King’s Stand and Madame Chiang in the 2014 British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.
While his year ended on the sour note as he was brought down in the fall that left Freddy Tylicki stricken and him with a broken nose, Crowley can now look forward to just that with the backing of his new boss.
Retaining his title may be a tough ask now but with plenty of established stars, as well as promising Classic-age hopefuls such as Talaayeb at his disposal, that dream is finally going to become a reality.