Watch Frankie Dettori discuss Lady Aurelia's chances after he partnered the King's Stand winner in work at York last week, key video formlines and read Andy Stephens' interview with man of the moment Jim Crowley ahead of Battaash's bid for Coolmore Nunthorpe glory on the Knavesmire on Friday.
By Andy Stephens at York.
If life begins at 40, then Jim Crowley is warming up in style.
A surprise champion jockey at 38, he has now turned 39 and is enjoying life as Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum’s retained rider - developing into a multiple Group One winner in the process.
Victories in the Coral-Eclipse, Sussex Stakes and, on Wednesday, the Juddmonte International Stakes, have helped Crowley’s rides around the world this year accumulate more than £4.5million in prize money.
Last year, when he hardly had time to catch his breath and rattled up 1017 rides (he has had 566 this term) without a retainer the figure was less than £2million. As a bonus, he also now has a bit more time to spend with his young family.
His days as a jump jockey - he rode more than 300 winners in that sphere - are a distant blot on the landscape and on Friday at York he will be at the centre of one of the most eagerly awaited sprints seen for many years when he partners Battaash against flying filly Lady Aurelia in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York.Jim Crowley bids to become the first jockey since Pat Eddery in 1981 to complete the Juddmonte International-Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes double (PA)
Battaash’s scintillating two wins at Sandown and Goodwood this season have revived memories of dazzling speedster Dayjur, who carried the Sheikh’s famous blue and white silks to a four-length victory in the Nunthorpe in 1990.
Crowley rode Battaash for the first time in public when landing the King George Stakes on soft ground at Goodwood last time, but had got a feel of his pace on trainer Charles Hills’s gallops beforehand.
“I pulled him out in his work and he was gone - it was a great feeling,” he said.Battaash broke the track record at Sandown when he won the Coral Charge last month (PA)
“He’s not overly big but he’s just got such a high cruising speed.
“What impressed me at Goodwood was the way he coped with the ground because there’s always a doubt in your mind when a horse has got so much speed. He’d broken the track record at Sandown the time before. The rain that fell on Wednesday won’t inconvenience him but he’s equally effective on fast ground and I think the track will suit him.”
Crowley finished fourth on Muthmir in the King’s Stand, finishing three and a half lengths behind Lady Aurelia. He also finished fourth on the same horse behind Battaash in the Coral Charge at Sandown the following month, when beaten an aggregate of about seven lengths.
“He beat Muthmir much further than she beat him, but under different circumstances,” he said.
“Fillies can be a little in and out, plus she has to cope with the travelling backwards and forwards, but what she’s done so far she has been impressive. She’s a very fast filly and it’s going to be a great race.”
It says much for Crowley’s fortunes these days that he is not even certain if Battaash is the quickest horse he has ridden. When asked the question his mind drifted back to the winter months when he successfully spent riding at the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan.
“It’s hard to say. We’ve got a very fast horse in Dubai in Ertijaal, who I think would have won the Al Quoz Sprint on World Cup night,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it tipped with rain and they upped the race to stay to six furlongs but over five he is very good. He and Battaash are both very fast.”
Crowley has a bit more time for reflection now that he is dining at the top table, rather than scurrying all over Britain in pursuit of the next winner.
“Last year was hard work but I would not have changed it, and it’s got me in the position where I am now,” he said. “There is a better balance to my life now and, touch wood, I’m having a great year. It’s nice to be able to get rides in the big races - that’s what it’s all about.”
A gelding operation has helped Battaash fulfil his potential because, mentally, it seems he was on the brink of completely losing the plot. “They say he was a bit of a handful but at Goodwood he was very well behaved,” Crowley said. “He seems to be growing up a lot.”
Lady Aurelia has also benefitted from remedial work. Her headstrong nature as a juvenile, when she believed she knew better than Frankie Dettori how fast she should be running, led to her surrendering her unbeaten record in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in the autumn.
Ever since Wesley Ward and his team have worked tirelessly to get her to settle and conserve her energy for the business end of her races. That was evident when she made Group One winners Profitable and Marsha look pedestrian in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot - a victory that was less spectacular than her Queen Mary romp 12 months earlier but tremendously smooth and efficient in its execution.
Last week she worked at York and Frankie Dettori came back in and told Racing UK he felt like she was “going a million miles per hour”. She’s not quite that quick, but the way she attacks life is tremendously refreshing.Lady Aurelia warmed up for the Nunthorpe with a blow out on the Knavesmire and also schooled at the course this week (York)
You can get 6-4 about Lady Aurelia if you hunt around, while Battaash is 15-8. The rest are 10-1 or bigger and need the big two to fluff their lines, something acknowledged by Sir Mark Prescott, the trainer of Prix de l’Abbaye winner Marsha.
“Lady Aurelia made us look slow last time,” he said.
Asked if he had a cunning plan to defeat her, he smiled and said: “No, not really, but these sprinters need it all to go their way, so you’ve got to hope to get lucky.
“Mr Hills’ horse [Battaash] also beat her fair and square at Goodwood, so we’ve got it all to do really, but I’ve never thought that is her best track. She’s a winner there [York] and I think it will suit her a fraction better, although I don’t think it will suit her any better than Ascot, and Lady Aurelia beat me there. I think I need a bit of luck.”