British champion jockey Crowley to ride for Sheikh Hamdan.
Hanagan had a short stint but Sheikh Hamdan’s new main rider tells Geoffrey Riddle he has all what it takes even at age 38
Jim Crowley knows the meaning of hard graft. It will be a useful attribute for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s new No 1 rider both at the Dubai World Cup Carnival that starts at Meydan Racecourse on January 7, and back in Europe and beyond.
Crowley, 38, put his body on the line this autumn as he wrested the British jockeys’ title away from the grasp of Silvestre De Sousa, the former Godolphin rider, who looked to have the championship wrapped up in late summer. A determined Crowley threw himself into the challenge of trying to usurp De Sousa. While he was rewarded with the title a few weeks after he had sealed the championship in mid-October, he was involved in a four-horse pile-up that left fellow jockey Freddy Tylicki paralysed below the waist.
Crowley’s nose was broken and he was kicked and mauled all over so much that it took him six weeks to recover. When The National sat down to discuss his new appointment in place of the Paul Hanagan, it is like coming face-to-face with Crowley 2.0.
Gone are the sunken sockets, the hauntingly determined look. They have been replaced by a fuller, more satisfied version. His nose is even fairly straight. Crowley rode over 1,000 mounts in Britain in 2016.
There will be no such terrifying demands on his time in Dubai, where there are 15 fixtures at Meydan from now until World Cup night on March 25.
But Crowley does not intend on having a relaxing time.
“It is not my style to sit back and take it easy,” Crowley said. “It’s going to be interesting and I am very much looking forward to the challenge.
“The more you ride the better you are and it keeps your eye in. “Wherever Sheikh Hamdan has runners I will go, and possibly will go if I don’t.”
At the business end of his tussle with De Sousa, Crowley employed a driver and regularly criss-crossed Britain by air.
“Towards the end I was doing a lot of flights but we you can only do it twice a week because you are only allowed to ride at nine meetings a week in Britain,” he said. “We would plan where we were going and look if there were two tracks close by.
“Silvestre is probably the toughest man to come up against. He has no weight troubles and is built like a little tank.
“He is strong and horses run for him, and we had a really good ding-dong. “Like anything it made me stronger and better. You have to raise your game. I would say he needed a holiday after that, too.”
Crowley is the obvious choice to replace Hanagan, but in many ways he also is a curious one. Sheikh Hamdan has proven to be a loyal owner in the past, but does Hanagan’s experience leave Crowley a little nervous going into one of the biggest jobs in world racing?
“I am not thinking stuff like that,” he said. “All I can do is my job on the track.
“I am not thinking what is going to happen. I just have to take it day by day. “You can only do your best.” Crowley has come through the ranks.
His parents were in point-topoint racing and he started out as a jumps jockey.
He made the switch to the flat in 2006 and was riding for Ralph Beckett in 2010.
In 2014 he went free-lance and was retained briefly by Jim Hay, the Dubai-based businessman.
He has little experience riding top-class horses at the highest level. When you ask him what is the best horse he has ridden, instead of saying Lord Shanakill, the horse on which he won the 2009 Prix Jean Prat – one of three wins at the highest level on his CV – he mentions Talent, the staying filly who won a Coronation Cup without him.
It is the one of three unknowns about him. The others are how he will adapt to riding regularly on the dirt of the UAE and riding Sheikh Hamdan’s beloved Arabians.
Richard Hills knows acutely what it takes to operate in the role, having ridden for Sheikh Hamdan for 18 years. The three-time Dubai World Cup night winner still works within the Shadwell umbrella as assistant racing manager to Angus Gold.
Hills will act as Crowley’s chaperone in Dubai during the buildup to the first Carnival fixture.
He will introduce Sheikh Hamdan to his retained jockey for the first time and will show him around the yards of the likes of Doug Watson, Musabbeh Al Mheiri, Erwan Charpy and Mike De Kock, who all train for the Minister of Finance.
Hills revealed why Crowley topped the shortlist. “We spoke to all of the trainers,” he said.
“Jim has been riding with tremendous confidence all year and worked very hard for his title, too.
“He is a nice guy and ticked all the right boxes.
“I have no doubt he can step up to riding the good horses. I have ridden against him and he won’t be fazed by it.
“I spoke with my brother Michael, who rides work with Hugo Palmer, and Jim’s feedback there has been excellent.”
Crowley got off the mark with his first ride for his prominent retainer when he guided Naseem to a five-length win at Chelmsford on December 22.
Despite Hanagan’s short-lived time in the famous blue and white silks, Crowley hopes to occupy the position for a very long time.
“As a jockey there is no point in being good at one thing,” he said.
“You have to be a good judge of a horse and pace. It helps if you are strong at the finish and tactically aware. You have to get off the horse and be able to communicate with people. “I am a good horseman and I have grown up with horses all of my life. I am a good judge of a horse. You never stop improving though. Look at Mick Kinane – he was best on Sea The Stars aged 50.”
Jim Crowley got a guard of honour in October after becoming the British champion jockey at Ascot, England.