It could be a night to remember for gentleman Jim
Lewis Porteous speaks to the rider who has made a great start to his new job
This time last year Jim Crowley was a former jump rider making a good fist of things on the Flat. Fast-forward 12 months and he is a champion Flat jockey, first choice to one of the biggest owners in the world and looking forward to six rides on the richest racecard on the planet.
For good measure he has been the leading rider at this year’s Dubai Carnival in his first winter based in the UAE and the big-race winners he now craves are within his grasp.
Some people get lucky in life but everything Crowley has before him has been hard earned. His blinkered assault on last year’s British Flat jockeys’ championship typifies his outlook as, just like his riding style, everything gets an all-out drive.
“It’s been a whirlwind year and was fantastic to finish up getting the job,” says Crowley, having spent a morning riding some of Saturday’s big-race hopefuls at Meydan. “It’s a great honour and a privilege to be asked to ride in these colours and I want to grab the opportunity with both hands.”
The colours he refers to are the famous royal blue and white of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, who picked Crowley as the successor to Paul Hanagan at the end of last year.
As a result, this winter has been like none that have gone before for Crowley. He has spent three months as an expat in Dubai, swapping winter's chill at Kempton, Wolverhampton and Lingfield, for the desert climes of Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi and Meydan.
“It’s the first time I’ve been based here and we’ve made a good start,” says Crowley, who registered 17 winners to be crowned the top rider at the carnival. “Riding nice horses gives you confidence and you ride better for it – it’s about trying to take your riding to another level.”
Having enjoyed a career-defining season to secure a first championship, his year in Britain ended prematurely when he was involved in the four-horse pile-up at Kempton in October that left fellow rider Freddy Tylicki paralysed from the waist down.
“You don’t dwell on things like that; I’m afraid it’s racing,” says Crowley. “Poor George Baker – the thoughts are with him at the moment – but any jockey will tell you you just can’t think about stuff like that because it just happens. It’s a great game but a tough game as well. I’m very fortunate to be in this position – and there is not a day that goes by you don’t appreciate it.
“I spoke to Freddy last week on the phone. He’s seems in good order and I’m looking forward to seeing him when I get back.”
Crowley will return to Britain “ready and refreshed” on Sunday and, thanks to a book of rides that is strong in both quality and quantity, hopes to be flying home with some silverware from World Cup night in the overhead locker.
“Hopefully I can get a couple on the scoreboard,” says the 38-year-old, who could strike early with AF Mathmoon in the only race restricted to pure-bred arabian horses on the card, but it is talk of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint that really gets him glowing.
Crowley partners local favourite Ertijaal in the 6f race, once a Classic hope for William Haggas in Newmarket but now officially the fastest horse to have ever graced Meydan under the care of Ali Al Rayhi.
“I can’t wait to sit on him really,” Crowley says. “Whenever I’ve ridden him he’s given me an unbelievable feel – one that I’ve never had before. I’ve had nice sprinters to ride, like King’s Stand horses, but this is something else. I just hope he can reproduce on the day what he’s done so far.”
Coincidentally, it is Haggas who provides Crowley with another live chance on the card, when the duo combine with Mutakayyef in the $6 million Dubai Turf.
Crowley says: “Out here is the first time I’ve sat on the horse and I’ve been really impressed with him. It’s a strong race but what do you expect for the money? He feels really good and should have a good chance.”
With last year’s Golden Shaheen winner Muarrab bidding for a repeat success, and decent local horses Zamaam and Etijaah also among his rides, it could be a night to savour for gentleman Jim.