He may not regain his champion jockey crown this year – but it would be a push to argue that since the resumption of racing in June, Jim Crowley has not been the man to follow.
An opening-day treble at Royal Ascot – a meeting at which he rode six winners – has been followed up with big winner after big winner.
The likes of Mohaather, Nazeef, Hukum and of course Battaash have all taken some of the biggest races of the season to date – and the latter formed part of a brilliant 127-1 four-timer on day three of the Ebor meeting at York.
Crowley, a former National Hunt jockey, is approaching his 2,000th career winner and has surely never had it better.
The day started well on something of a forgotten horse in the mile-and-a-half handicap through John Gosden’s Alfaatik, who began last year in a Derby trial. Gelded over the winter, he looks a different proposition now and stayed on stoutly.
It was then time for the big guns. In the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup there was no Stradivarius – but Gosden still proved the man to follow with the mare Enbihaar.
Already a favourite of Crowley’s, the five-year-old has provided him with five wins now and the hope is she can sign off her career with a so-far elusive Group One win in Paris in October in the Prix de Royallieu.
Crowley said: “She is so tough and she stayed very well. Credit must go to Sheikh Hamdan (owner) because he’s kept her in training and it’s so great she’s been able to repay the faith we have all shown in her.”
From stayers over two miles, Crowley then dropped down to six furlongs to win the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Gimcrack Stakes on Owen Burrows’ Minzaal.
Sent off the 5-2 favourite after an easy win at Salisbury, the Mehmas youngster looked impressive when coming home two lengths clear of a good field.
The Middle Park Stakes is next, with the Commonwealth Cup, rather than the Guineas, his aim next year.
“I think he’s all speed, I don’t think he needs to be going further than six furlongs, so we’ll be looking Middle Park rather than Dewhurst and it will be straight there,” said Burrows.
Then it was time for the really big one, the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes over five furlongs.
When Battaash won the race last year many said he had put his York hoodoo to bed having flopped there twice before.
Understandably, given he had looked imperious in winning at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, Battaash was sent off the 1-2 favourite – but while he won, he had to show qualities that might not have been attributed to him before.
Michael Dods’ flying filly Que Amoro made him pull out all the stops and in a howling gale Battaash, who in his younger days was such a tearaway, knuckled down for a scrap and came out on top by a length.
Charlie Hills described the performance as arguably a career-best, taking into account he had plenty of things against him, as he joined an elite list of dual Nunthorpe winners. Only two horses in history have won it more – Tag End and Sharpo.
Crowley said: “He tried very hard. They went a serious gallop, but he was a real man and stuck his head out. In the past he has always won his races at halfway, so fair play to the second horse. He’s an amazing horse.
“We’re lucky to have him about and it’s fantastic for Sheikh Hamdan – he’s a big supporter of racing and has been for a long time and I’m glad I can repay him in some way. It’s been a golden summer.”
Reflecting on the day and the fact he is just two winners away from his 2,000th, he added: “I had some nice rides on paper, but it’s not easy, you’ve still got to win, so it’s been a really good day.
“It’s very special. It’s a top day and I’m very fortunate to be in this position – I get to ride some nice horses and it’s great when it comes off.
“It would be lovely to do (ride his 2,000th winner in the Ebor on Jeremiah). It’s a nice milestone to reach – I never thought I’d get that many when I first came into racing.”