Wide-open field assembled to battle for Flat jockeys’ crown

Jim Crowley, Champion Jockey

Jim Crowley, Champion Jockey

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

Whoever said that jump racing was more exciting than the Flat was clearly not betting on the jockeys’ championships.

Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson in turn have made the jumps title race a procession, whereas it has tended to go down to the wire on the Flat in recent years.

The 66-1 shot Jim Crowley came from off the pace to get up in the last few weeks last year, and any number of names have been mentioned as possible contenders for the 2017 Stobart championship, which gets under way on Saturday.

“Our market is headed by four former champions Silvestre de Sousa, Paul Hanagan, Jim Crowley and Ryan Moore, but there is no guarantee the winner will even come from that quartet,” said Coral spokesman David Stevens.

“The truncated season for the Flat jockeys’ title race may not have met with universal approval but there’s no doubt it has helped create a championship that more riders will feel they can win, as they don’t have to commit to being in the UK at either end of the campaign.”

Silvestre de Sousa

Silvestre de Sousa

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

De Sousa tops the betting but said: “I shouldn’t be favourite. I’m very busy but I will probably have a lot of trips abroad. There is a bunch of riders who could win it.

“I’m not targeting anything, I want to ride as many winners as I can and pick a nice horse to take me to the big races. It’s too early to say I am going for it.

“I will get to halfway in the season and see where I am. There’s no point putting my head there and getting to halfway and them going by me like I’m stood still.”

He added: “It was a great privilege to be champion. It’s a dream for every jockey. If you are in the position to win, you will try to win. A lot of jockeys say they don’t want to do it but I think everyone wants to do it if they have the support.”

Hanagan is second favourite now that he is back in the north and he said: “I’ll see how it goes. I’m happy to be back among the team at Richard Fahey’s and my main aim is for the yard to keep having plenty of winners.

“It’s down to what kind of start you get; the two times I won it I had such a good start – the first time I had four winners at Doncaster and two the next day, and the ball just kept rolling.

“I think there are plenty of jockeys who have got a lot of support behind them and there could be quite a few in there with a chance. It’s very hard work but it would be fantastic to be champion, it’s such an honour and you’ve got to take the chance if you get it.”

(Paul Hanagan)

(Paul Hanagan)

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

Crowley has succeeded Hanagan as first jockey to Hamdan Al Maktoum and said: “There will be different priorities with my new job but I’ve still got lots of horses to ride and I didn’t have the championship on my mind until after Goodwood last year. I’d love to retain it, I’ll give it my best shot if I can do it.

“It might be a little more difficult, but you don’t know until you try and I won’t give it up without a fight.”

Asked about possible rivals, Crowley said: “I was a 66-1 shot last year so you just never know. It’s whoever really wants it the most and has the firepower.”

His agent Tony Hind, who also books rides for other championship contenders Ryan Moore and Fran Berry, warns punters not to get carried away by early moves in the title race.

“I have three guys who could win it but I don’t think about the championship until after Glorious Goodwood,” he said. “I will wait until the Sunday after that and if one of them is within 17 of the lead we’ll go for it.

“Last year Jim was 17 behind Silvestre de Sousa and I said we should go for it. He said I was mad, but I said, ‘Let me be mad’ – and he won it.”

Championship contenders

Silvestre de Sousa
Best price 11-8
Won the championship in 2015 and finished runner-up last year, when he rode winners for 43 different trainers. His 21 winners since the start of the turf season show he has lost none of his ability and he is sure to be just as popular with trainers.

Paul Hanagan
Best price 5-2
Champion in 2010 and 2011 but finished 19th in his final year as main jockey to Hamdan Al Maktoum. Now back at Richard Fahey’s Malton winner factory and will also get plenty of other support in the north.

Jim Crowley
Best price 8-1
Came from behind to spring a surprise last year and was rewarded with the Hamdan Al Maktoum job. That will change his priorities but he will still get plenty of ammunition.

Andrea Atzeni
Best price 10-1
Third in the championship last year, when a fabulous four-timer on St Leger day highlighted the rising star’s talents, and the backing of Roger Varian’s powerful yard could fuel a serious title bid.

Ryan Moore
Best price 12-1
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fans know that the most talented performer does not always win the crown and events have conspired against Moore’s adding to his three championships, the last of which came in 2009. A Lincoln day hat-trick underlined his ability and he would walk it if prize-money determined the title.

The field
Jim Crowley’s success underlined that no jockey’s chance should be underestimated, and Fran Berry (20-1), William Buick (20-1), Oisin Murphy (20-1) and James Doyle (25-1) will all have their supporters. The 1994, 1995 and 2004 champion Frankie Dettori is offered at no bigger than 50-1, thanks to his tie-ups with Al Shaqab and the in-form John Gosden, while although a 100-1 shot to become the first female winner, Josephine Gordon cannot be completely written off.


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