By Tony Elves
JIM CROWLEY looks professionalism personified as he calmly gazes through the stalls waiting for the starter to open the gates but like his weighing room colleagues those elusive butterflies remain as he eagerly panders for Royal Ascot success.
With the domination of the Ballydoyle battalions, Stoutes and Gosdens, chances must be grasped with both hands and after turning his skills from the Jumps to the Flat in 2006, Crowley had to wait until 2011 to capture a first victory at Royal Ascot.
He partnered Prohibit to a half-length success from Australian challenger Star Witness in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes.
Crowley said: “For any jockey it’s the biggest meeting of the season – you have the Classics but it doesn’t really get any better than the five days of Royal Ascot and going there with a horse that has a chance gives you a real buzz. Leaving Royal Ascot without a winner isn’t much fun and if you have one then it makes the week.”
There weren’t any pre-match nerves before that initial success as Prohibit had run well in both of his starts after being ridden by Crowley for the first time – finishing a length and a quarter third to Sole River in the Temple Stakes at Haydock and then failing by only a head behind Wizz Kid in the Prix Du Gros-Chene at Chantilly.
Jim continues: “I was very confident he would win that day I had ridden him in his previous two races and knew he was going forward and that he was well fancied by his trainer, Robert Cowell, for Royal Ascot. It all went like clockwork really and to come from jumping and to go and win a Group 1 race on the flat was so special.”
Hailing from Ascot himself, there was well-named second winner for Jim two years later when Berkshire dotted up in the Chesham Stakes.
The Paul Cole-trained colt had run well on his debut over six furlongs at Newbury in May and the step up to seven in the Chesham proved ideal as he zipped clear to score by two and a half lengths from Bunker at the rewarding odds of 16-1.
He said: “I had ridden him in his work and we knew he was a very talented horse. Paul had him in peak form and it was a great thrill to see him win the way he did.”
The seven furlongs of the Ascot straight was to help conjure up another success for Crowley in 2015 when Dutch Connection took the Group 3 Jersey Stakes for Charlie Hills.
Once again it was a double figure success for Crowley as the 14-1 shot battled on courageously to score by a half a length from Fadhayyil.
Jim said: “Dutch Connection was a nice surprise as I had only got the ride 48 hours before the race and it proved a very lucky spare to pick up.”
Crowley’s fortunes were certainly on the up at that stage and his career took a further step forward when he was crowned Champion Jockey in 2016 and with it came the enviable position as first jockey to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum in 2017.
The new partners drew a blank at the meeting in that year but Eqtidaar delivered their first blood when powering home to a half-length victory from Sands of Mali in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup in 2018.
Crowley said: “I had ridden Eqtidaar in his work before Royal Ascot and he had galloped all over Expert Eye. That horse came out and won the Jersey Stakes and I knew Eqtidaar was the business and he didn’t disappoint. He did it very nicely and it was great to have a Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot for the boss.”
There a further bonus on the cards on the closing day 12 months ago when Bacchus was to foil one of the major gambles of the season when thwarting Dreamfield in the Wokingham Handicap.
The Brian Meehan-trained gelding was having his first run since October, but the 33-1 shot galloped on straight and true in the closing stages to beat the 2-1 favourite by a neck.
“I was drawn next to Dreamfield and I simply just had to try and follow him through. The race went a treat and we nailed him close home and it was great to leave the meeting with a double.”
Perhaps strangely, Crowley was possibly seen at his best in defeat when almost stealing the jewel in the Crown in 2014.
Missunited was sent off an unconsidered 40-1 for the Gold Cup but Crowley set out to make every yard and with the Michael Winters-trained mare giving her all for her jockey she was only to succumb to Leading Light and Estimate close home to be beaten a neck and a short head.
She was later promoted to second when the runner-up proved positive to a drug test.
“That was close oh so close and a race I will remember for a long time. She was so game and although he had to give best she gave me some ride and ran the race of her life.”
Attentions are focused on the five days that commence on June 18, and Crowley has a potential book of rides that will, hopefully, have him purring at the end of the week.
The week could start off with a bang as he looks likely to have MUSTASHRY on his side in the opening Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes.
Like so many of Sir Michael Stoute’s horses, Mustashry has improved with age and the six-year-old gelding recorded a career best performance when registering a Group 1 success with a two and a half-length defeat of Laurens in the Lockinge at Newbury last month.
Jim said: “He’s a very tough and genuine horse and it was a great performance in the Lockinge. He’s very versatile trip-wise and has won from seven furlongs to 1m 2f.
“There doesn’t seem to be many chinks in his armour and he’s a solid horse and turns up and does his job. Hopefully, he goes there with a very good chance.”
Possibly the pick of Crowley’s rides could be BATTAASH who runs in the King’s Stand later on the first day.
“I would be very disappointed if he gets beat. He probably wasn’t as in good form as he is now going into Ascot and last year, unfortunately, Lady Aurelia missed the kick along with Kachy and Battaash ended up doing all the donkey work,” said Crowley.
“He looked the real deal when winning the Temple Stakes again and, if we can just hold onto him, I would think he is probably my best chance at the meeting.”
The Coronation Stakes is brewing up to be one of the highlights of the meeting with dual 1000 Guineas winner Hermosa and Pretty Pollyana ready to do battle and MAQSAD likely to throw her hat into the ring.
Jim said: “Maqsad didn’t stay in the Oaks and she is going to drop back in trip for the Coronation. She was the last filly off the bridle in the Oaks and she will be a great spin in that.”
There will be others to be finalised but there is one that could well be worth a second glance – “It looks like I will ride AFAAK in the Royal Hunt Cup. Charlie Hills has trained him for the race so hopefully we go there with a decent chance and he would have to be there or thereabouts.”
The future might be orange for some, but blue is the colour as far as Jim Crowley is concerned with the distinct possibly that a Royal Ascot double last year could be matched or exceeded.