Jim Crowley will begin the defence of his domestic Flat Jockeys’ Championship title at Doncaster next week, refreshed and batteries recharged, but ‘with different priorities’ now that he is retained by Sheikh Hamdan.
Crowley, 38, will complete a successful first full winter in Dubai with six rides on Saturday's US$30m Dubai World Cup card.
His mounts, all in Sheikh Hamdan’s silks, include Ertijaal, the local gelding which holds the Meydan track record at five and six furlongs in the Al Quoz Sprint, and the William Haggas trained Mutakayyef in the Dubai Turf.
“There’s a small bit of pressure,” he agreed looking forward to Dubai racing’s big day after sitting on Mutakayyef for the first time before a weak sun rose over a cloudy Meydan in the early hours of Thursday. “But pressure’s good. It makes you focused.”
The former jump jockey was announced as Sheikh Hamdan’s first jockey last November when the owner decided not to renew Paul Hanagan’s contract after four years.
“It’s been a whirlwind year,” admitted Crowley. “Touch wood I’ve made a good start and hopefully I can keep the momentum going back in Britain. I was very pleased about being top jockey at the Carnival with 17 winners. Riding nice horses gives you confidence and takes your riding another level.
“After last season’s Championship and the pile-up [in which colleague Freddy Tylicki was paralysed] at Kempton, coming out here was the best thing that could have happened,” he explained. “I feel very refreshed. I’d done a few short trips out and back before but never a season.”
Speaking about defending the Stobart-sponsored title, he explained: “Every jockey wants to be champion and I’m not going to say I don’t want to win it because people will say I’m not hungry. I am. But I won’t be riding in the 9.20pm at Wolverhampton if I’ve got a few nice rides for the boss at Newbury the next day – it wouldn’t make sense.
“Hopefully I’ll be riding quality horses and I’ll do a good job. That should have a knock-on effect to the quality of outside rides I can pick up. I didn’t start thinking about last year’s title until after Glorious Goodwood and I can’t see that being any different this season.”
During Hanagan’s incumbency, when the sprinter Muhaarar and filly Taghrooda were the best he rode, his biggest problem was trying to please each of Hamdan’s 13 different trainers, all of whom want something slightly different from their jockey.
If Crowley has impressed so far it is in his pronunciation of the names of Hamdan’s horses, something his two predecessors, Hanagan and Richard Hills, never completely mastered. Tomorrow’s mounts Mutakayyef and Muarrab tripped off his tongue without the need for an autocue and he was not brought down by the similarities between Etijaah and Ertijaal either.
His best hope of landing a Classic for Sheikh Hamdan in his first season seems to lie with Talaayeb who won a Newmarket maiden in September. While her pedigree suggests stamina, she surprised her connections with the speed she showed over seven, suggesting that she may be a Guineas filly.
The owner has increased his backing for Owen Burrows, her trainer, by increasing the Lambourn trainer’s string from 40 to 75.
“It’s Jim’s decision if he wants to chase the title,” said Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager, surveying what is structurally the world’s biggest racecourse from the back-stretch.
“He has plenty of experience and I guess he won’t want to spread himself too thinly. He can decide for himself if he can do the work load.
“He’ll get a certain amount of winners from us by sheer weight of numbers but he’ll also have to ride a few lesser horses when he might have had the chance for something better in some races. That’s always gone with the territory of retainers though. But there’s no reason why he shouldn’t go for it.”