Crowley eager to complete ‘unfinished business’ in St Leger
Champion has become the ‘turn-to’ rider for all the biggest races, writes Marcus Armytage
As much as being champion is a feather in any jockey’s cap, it is riding big winners, particularly Classics and Group Ones, that matters most. Although that has not really happened for Silvestre de Sousa since he was champion in 2015, the normal progression for most jockeys who start riding lots of winners, like Jim Crowley, who rides the 5-1 favourite Crystal Ocean in the William Hill St Leger at Doncaster today, is that the Group One winners start to flow.
In that regard this season, with Ulysses winning the Eclipse Stakes and Juddmonte International and Here Comes When springing a surprise in the Sussex, has been more of a breakthrough year for Crowley than 2016, when he won the title for the first time.
Ironically, while the job he began this year as Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s retained jockey seemed to hold back his predecessor, Paul Hanagan, the owner’s shortage of Group One performers has meant that Crowley has become one of the first choices for any decent spare rides.
“The St Leger is a good race this year,” he said. “I was second in 2013 on Talent so I feel I have some unfinished business. No matter what position you are in, Crystal Ocean is a terrific spare ride to pick up – they’re hard to come by.”
Despite a winner at the top level for Sheikh Hamdan proving elusive it has been a good first season for the pairing. “My first ride for the boss was a winner, I had some luck in Dubai and we’ve had plenty of Group winners,” said Crowley.
“He seems to have some lovely two-year-olds coming through, which is exciting. Hopefully there are a few gems for next year among them. It can be tough riding for so many different trainers and you can’t keep everyone happy all the time, but I’m doing the best I can and hopefully I’m doing a good job.”
He has not done too much wrong for Sir Michael Stoute on the few occasions they have linked up and Crystal Ocean has a similar profile to Stoute’s only Leger winner Conduit, who came to Doncaster in 2008 after winning the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.
Sir Evelyn de Rothschild’s homebred Crystal Ocean beat Khalidi by 3½ lengths in the soft at Goodwood, when ridden by Ryan Moore, so today’s ground will hold no terrors for him. That said, the faster it is the greater his chance of staying the 1¾ mile trip.
What was far more telling at Goodwood than the style of that win was the glint in Stoute’s eye after the race. It was part one of a plan one suspects he has had at the back of his mind perhaps since the Dante in May when Crystal Ocean finished a close third. Part two is, as with Conduit, a one-off crack at today’s trip before dropping back in distance next year.
This looks a vintage St Leger and it will surely take a bit of winning. Although Frankie Dettori has gone with the well-backed Coronet, her stable companion Stradivarius won the Goodwood Cup over two miles on ground with definite ease in it so, should be staying on best at the finish. However, I believe that Crystal Ocean can give Crowley his first Classic success and Stoute his first since Workforce won the 2010 Derby.
Market forces: Crystal Ocean and Jim Crowley are favourites to win the St Leger