Jim Crowley: Focus was on the horses, not fashion *H&H Plus*

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  • Jim Crowley was champion Flat jockey in 2016 and is the retained rider for leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. The former National Hunt jockey enjoyed six victories at this year’s Royal Ascot, including the Group One King’s Stand Stakes on Battaash.

    I enjoyed my best-ever Royal Ascot last week, finishing second on the leading jockeys’ board to Frankie Dettori – we both notched up six wins but he beat me on second places.

    There was top-class racing on every day and Frankie winning the Gold Cup on Stradivarius by 10 lengths was so impressive. I finished fifth on Mekong and it was great to be a part of the race. Frankie is a big character and he is brilliant for the sport – popular with racing fans for his flying dismounts.

    The opening Tuesday (16 June) was a dream for me with a treble on the day and it was the first time I have achieved that at the royal meeting.

    My week kicked off with a win in the first race of the five-day meeting on Motakhayyel in the Buckingham Palace Handicap. I had a choice of rides but opted for the Richard Hannon-trained colt – who was a 14/1 chance – over some other more-favoured horses. So I was glad my decision pulled off and we won the race. I had ridden him during a racecourse gallop at Kempton Park beforehand and he had felt very well.

    It was a great start to my week and really got the ball rolling. I was unlucky in the Group One Queen Anne Stakes on Mohaather, where some traffic problems prevented us from getting a clear run. Winning the Group One King’s Stand Stakes on the Charlie Hills-trained Battaash was a big highlight. He can be quite a handful, so not having the crowds and the atmosphere helped him settle before the race. He was chilled in the paddock and was walking around slowly for his lad, Bob Grace, who has worked for the Hills family for over 30 years now. We won the race in good style and it was third time lucky for him, having finished second in 2018 and 2019.

    It was very strange riding at Royal Ascot without a crowd of racegoers cheering us on – that is always a marvellous feeling and that special atmosphere was obviously lost. But as a jockey, it is always so hard to ride a Royal Ascot winner, so that elation of winning remains the same; it is always a relief to get one – or more – on the board.

    I was very happy that my boss, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, for whom I am the retained jockey, was the leading owner of the royal meeting.

    I felt sad for the owners that they weren’t allowed to attend and I missed seeing the excitement on their faces when their horses won. As leading owner, it would have been lovely for Sheikh Hamdan to have been there, instead of watching at home. Hopefully, owners will be the first people allowed back on the racecourse soon.

    This year, Sheikh Hamdan has a great team of horses and sometimes it just works out like that. All the trainers did well to get their horses prepared for the week, with lockdown having stumped many prep runs.

    “I was proud to be a part of it”

    I am sure many people enjoyed the coverage by ITV Racing and it was nice that the whole focus was on the high-class racing and the horses, without the fashion element.

    I hope the racing action this year reached out to those who perhaps would otherwise attend Royal Ascot primarily for the social side and less so for the racing.

    As jockeys, we were required to fill out a form on the British Horseracing Authority website beforehand, then on arrival we had our temperatures taken and were given a wristband to confirm we were OK to ride.

    Wearing facemasks during racing is not easy and has taken a bit of getting used to because it’s hard to catch your breath – it gets hot and your goggles steam up. I’m hoping we won’t have to wear them for too much longer.

    The changing room was sectioned up, so we each had our own changing area divided by Perspex glass and we had to adhere to the two-metre rule. Ascot Racecourse had done a brilliant job and looked after us very well.

    I also enjoyed watching some of the young jockeys ride their first Royal Ascot winners. This included Hollie Doyle on Scarlet Dragon in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes, and Kevin Stott in the Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Hello Youmzain. He followed this up with a win on Hey Jonesy in the Wokingham.

    It was a very different Royal Ascot this year and one that will go down in history, and I was very proud to be a part of it all.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020

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