By Jon Lees
GB: In normal times Jim Crowley would be spending the first Saturday in May at Newmarket preparing to ride in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
But these are not normal times. So Sheikh Hamdan’s number one rider, Britain’s champion Flat jockey of 2016, will instead be at home in Pulborough, West Sussex, his dreams of clinching a first Classic success on hold for at least a month.
As a result of the lockdown imposed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, at least there has been plenty of time for dreaming.
And fortunately there are plenty of horses to fill his lockdown thoughts, particularly older ones. Crowley, 41, enjoyed a bumper year for Sheikh Hamdan in 2019, riding 85 winners for an owner who enjoyed his biggest annual tally since 1995 in Britain with 151 successes.
Battaash was the standout, the fastest horse in Europe smashing Dayjur’s course record in a blistering Nunthorpe Stakes triumph. But he may not be the sole G1 contributor this year.
“Funnily enough I drew up a list the other day,” said Crowley. “I don’t normally do things like that because things can go wrong with them, but I always try to do as much homework as I can.
“We have quite a strong bunch of older horses,” he went on. “Obviously there is Battaash but also Enbihaar, the filly with John Gosden who won the Lillie Langtry and Park Hill Stakes.
“Sheikh Hamdan has kept her in training as a five-year-old and because she is so big she will be a force to be reckoned with. She was a bit unlucky on Arc weekend because the ground turned to heavy and she was third [in the Prix de Royallieu], giving weight away to an Oaks winner. Hopefully she can bag a G1.
“Mustashry, the Lockinge winner, is a good solid horse. He went to Dubai but had to come home when it was called off. I rode him work just before he left and he went as good as he ever worked.
“Another on the way up is the Stewards’ Cup winner Khaadem. I think he is very exciting – he didn’t enjoy the ground in the Haydock Park Sprint but he is a very good horse who can be a decent Group performer.
Crowley also has high hopes for the Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam, who easily handled recent dual G1 scorer Addeybb in the G2 Sky Bet York Stakes.
“Elarqam had his issues as a three-year-old but last year his run in the Juddmonte International was very good,” the rider explained. “He got a bit outpaced and when he got going all the gaps closed. It would be nice to make him a G1 winner with his fantastic pedigree [Frankel out of Attraction].
“Mohaather is a very talented horse who shows a lot of speed. We will test him over a mile again but he could easily come back in trip, especially on soft ground. He ran very creditably in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes having not run since the Greenham.”
For all his brilliance, a Royal Ascot victory again eluded Battaash who had to settle for second place again in the King’s Stand Stakes. He ran no race in the Prix de l’Abbaye on very soft ground.
“Battaash can turn up and put up an unbelievable performance and sometimes he doesn’t,” Crowley continued. “He just didn’t fire in France but he didn’t do a lot wrong in winning the Temple Stakes, finishing second at Royal Ascot, winning at Goodwood and York.
“It would be nice to win a King’s Stand if Ascot goes ahead,” he added. “That’s the race we really want to win with him. He was beaten by an outstanding horse in Blue Point who probably outstayed him both times. Sometimes that stiff Ascot finish catches him out, but he has run well. It would be nice to go one better.”
Crowley, who has kept fit with regular runs, has only recently resumed riding out locally but has taken all necessary precautions. “I am not mixing with staff,” he said. “I meet them on the gallops and get on and get off, change my gloves, disinfect my hands, and don’t get in a car with anybody.”
He says he is looking forward to a resumption without being impatient on that score. “You can’t force the issue,” he said. “I know a lot of people are frustrated and jockeys are but people’s health is far more important at this moment.”
And once he is back on the racecourse again he will be pursuing a familiar ambition. “I have had the same goal since I started,” he said.
“I would love to win a Classic. I’ve been second in three or four now, placed in the Derby, Oaks and St Leger. To win one would be the icing on the cake.”
Among Sheikh Hamdan’s 2,000 Guineas prospects the once-raced Al Madhar, highly regarded by Richard Hannon, and Molatham, a Listed winner for Roger Varian last year, head the class of 2020.
“It’s hard to say what I would have ridden because I’ve not had a chance to sit on any of them this season,” said Crowley. “The horse of Roger Varian’s was very smart but they want fast ground. It’s not happening so I haven’t really thought about it.
“We have got some nice horses. Owen Burrows has a beautiful Sea The Stars colt [Hukum], who won a Kempton maiden very nicely. I know William Haggas has one he is keen on [Al Aasy] so we do have Classic horses – if we get around to running them.”