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The life of Brian

Crowley hopes to unseat fellow Irishman Paddy Young as NSA’s champion jockey

Posted: March 29, 2012 9:48 a.m.
Updated: March 30, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Sometimes the grass is indeed greener, if not firmer, on the other side of the Atlantic.
Armed with his riding tack,  164 wins in his native Ireland and England and dreams of brighter days in his career, Brian Crowley left the Emerald Isle to take his chance as a steeplechase jockey in America in 2010. Judging by the early returns, it was a wise move.
Crowley, a 30-year-old from County Cork, was not exactly itching to get out of Ireland. But when a friend of a friend proposed his giving American chasing a go, the then-28-year-old figured he had nothing to lose by expanding his racing horizons.
“I was race riding in Ireland,” Crowley said after a warm late-winter morning spent galloping horses for trainer Jonathan Sheppard at the Hall of Fame conditioner’s Ashwell Stables barn on the grounds of the Springdale Race Course.
“Things were going well over there, but I had no ties, really. Then, I was informed that there might be a good opening over here so, I took it.”
The groundwork for Crowley’s arrival at Sheppard’s barn started when fellow Irishman and former National Steeplechase Association rider Calvin McCormack was talking to fellow countryman and former NSA rider-turned-trainer, Tom Foley. McCormack told Foley about his friend, Crowley, being a good fit for following in their footsteps by leaving the homeland for America.
It was Foley who interceded on Crowley’s behalf and approached Sheppard about bringing another lad on board. By January of 2010, Crowley was hopping on Sheppard-trained horses. And, when the NSA kicked off that year’s season at Aiken, Crowley piloted the Sheppard-saddled Air Maggy to a victory in the W.C. Jackson flat race.
Crowley would get his first start over National fences, two races later, piloting the Michael Berryman-trained Honour Emblem to a second-place finish in the $10,000 G.H. Bostwick maiden claimer. Before the Aiken meet ended, Crowley endured his “welcome to the NSA” moment when he was unseated by Beachcomber, in the afternoon’s sixth and final race.
Aiken was the first stop in a learning process for Crowley, who adjusted to the shorter races in this country than those in Ireland and England. But he did not make many changes as to the way he rode in races. Crowley said he is just as comfortable being on a horse which likes to run on the lead as he is with one whose style might be to come from off the pace and make a charge down the stretch, although like all riders, he would like to be on a horse which goes to the lead, stays there for as long as it can and finish with a big closing kick.
He said he was able to adjust to his new surroundings without many hiccups along the way.
“Over there,” he explained, “we have races from 2 ½ to 3 ½ miles and it’s just a different type of horse.
“I didn’t really have to change my style … I just had to be a little quicker and a little more alert earlier (in the races.)”
Crowley overcame an uneven beginning to the U.S. portion of his career by finishing the 2010 season riding nine winners with nine seconds and six thirds in 45 mounts. His $428,440 in earnings was second only to Paddy Young, a native of Ireland, who comes into the 2012 NSA campaign as the three-time leading riding champion.
In 2011, Young successfully defended his title with 27 wins and $529,470 in earnings from 112 starts. Crowley was second in both categories as he made 15 visits to the winners’ circle and his jumpers earned $394,700 from having met the starter’s flag on 72 occasions.
Crowley said he bumped into Young when they were both living in Ireland while knowing Young’s younger brother, Jeremy, better than he did the older of the Youngs.
Crowley acknowledged that Young is the man to beat again this season. But the two Irishmen have developed a friendly rivalry.
“He is,” Crowley answered as to whether Young is the one the other riders have to shoot for, again, this year. “He has a lot of ammunition.
“Paddy and his wife (and trainer Leslie Young) have been fantastic to me. They’ve helped me with trips to races, organizing my license and helping me get rides.
“Besides Jonathan (Sheppard) and the owners, they are the ones I would like to thank next. They’re doing very well with their training. I get along very well with Paddy.”
While getting along with Young is one thing, Crowley would love to be the jockey who ends Young’s reign as champion at three. But he is not consumed by and/or losing sleep thinking about winning the title 24/7.
“My goal is just to ride winners,” Crowley said. “Obviously, it would be nice to win the championship; it’s always in the back of my mind, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. Saratoga, Monmouth, Far Hills … they’re what I’m priming for.”
You would think that Crowley spends the NSA’s spring campaign salivating as he waits for the circuit to make its annual six-week stay in Saratoga. It was in the upstate New York spa that Crowley announced his presence in a big way to the sport of steeplechasing in this country.
In 2010, Crowley scored his first Saratoga win as he partnered with the Sheppard-trained Sermon of Love to win the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Stakes. After having won with Lead Us Not in a $53,000 allowance chase, Crowley teamed with Sermon of Love in winning the biggest chasing prize at the Spa, the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup. It was Crowley’s first Grade I winner in America.
As if to prove his first time at Saratoga was not a fluke, last summer, Crowley brought home four winners from his eight starts including Divine Fortune in the $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Chase (Gr. 2) for Sheppard. He also won the $70,000 Michael Walsh Novice Stakes with Italian Wedding.
In 16 career starts at Saratoga, Crowley has been a bettor’s best friend with seven victories, six seconds and a third.
Is there a secret to his success in the late summer in New York? “To be fair, it’s just been being lucky,” he said of his run of success at Saratoga. “Our horses are primed well for the day. I think the track itself suits a lot of our horses. Thank God ... it’s been good.”
The going at Saratoga, like that of the Springdale Race Course in Camden, is relatively flat. Unlike the sprawling grounds of Springdale, Saratoga chases are run inside the main dirt track meaning tighter turns and less room to maneuver.
Crowley opened his third season of riding in the NSA with a third aboard Air Maggy in the $25,000 Celebrate Aiken allowance hurdle, his only start of the day over jumps on Saturday in Aiken. That came after an off-season in which he returned to Ireland for Christmas to visit with family and friends.
It was his first time back home since 2010. And, he did not think about his job in America at any time during his stay.
“I didn’t get within 15 feet of a horse there,” he said with a smile. “It was nice to get back home to see family and folks.”
Come Saturday, Crowley is slated to be in the irons on Sermon of Love in the $50,000 Carolina Cup feature. It will be Crowley’s first start in the Camden spring classic, even though he is no stranger to Springdale. In 2010, he rode Arcadius to victory in the $30,000 Woodward-Kirkover Stakes in the spring meet. In the fall of 2011, the pair came home third in the $100,000 Colonial Cup.
Crowley and Sermon of Love finished 11th in last fall’s Colonial Cup feature. But with Saturday’s race being a half-mile shorter than the 2 3/4-mile Camden fall classic, Crowley said his mount should like the course and the shorter distance better.
“I think it suits him. It’s a quick track and he’ll appreciate the ground,” he said. “Touch wood, he jumps OK. I can see him running a very decent race.”
In nine previous starts over fences in Camden, Crowley has two wins and two thirds to show for himself and his mounts. Those numbers pale in comparison to his Saratoga numbers, but the Camden layout is one which he appreciates and respects.
“When you’re speaking about maiden horses,” he said while looking out onto the Springdale Race Course, “I feel that it’s very important for a horse to have had one or two runs previous to running here.
“It’s a very fair track. It’s probably one of the nicest and biggest galloping tracks that there is in America. I really enjoy riding around here.”

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