Nowadays, Jim Crowley is best known as first-choice jockey to leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, having replaced Paul Hanagan in that role in November, 2016. His appointment came shortly after he had been crowned Champion Jockey for the first and, so far, only time the previous month.
However, while Crowley began his career as an amateur, riding on the Flat for the like of John White and Ron Hodges, in the late Nineties he switched his affiliation to National Hunt racing. Riding predominantly for West Yorkshire trainer Sue Smith, Crowley racked up over 250 winners in that sphere and once rode in the Grand National, albeit parting company with his mount, 150/1 outsider Art Prince, at the very first fence.
In 2006, at the behest of his father-in-law, Guy Harwood, Crowley switched back to the Flat and began riding for his sister-in-law, Amanda Perrett, based in Pulborough, West Sussex. In 2007, Crowley rode 92 winners, nearly double his previous seasonal best under National Hunt Rules, 47, recorded in 2004/5, and rode over a hundred winners in 2008 and 2009, before joining Ralph Beckett as stable jockey in 2010. He recorded his first Group One winner, Prohibit, trained by Robert Cowell, in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2011 and went freelance in 2014.
Harry Cobden was announced as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset in May, 2018, immediately prior to the start of the 2018/19 National Hunt season. Cobden succeeded Sam Twiston-Davies, who had replaced the previous incumbent, Daryl Jacob, four years earlier, but chose to go freelance in the face of increased competition for rides from the likes of Cobden, Bryony Frost and Sean Bowen.
A graduate from pony racing, Cobden was encouraged to pursue a career as a jockey by local trainer Ron Hodges, for whom he began riding out at the age of just nine. Cobden left school, at the age of 16, in 2014 and spent seven months working for Dorset trainer Anthony Honeyball before being offered the position of conditional jockey at Nicholls’ yard. In his first season at Manor Farm, 2015/16, Cobden rode 30 winners but, in 2016/17, increased his winning seasonal tally to 63 winners; he rode out his claim in early February, 2017 and subsequently won the conditional jockeys’ championship by a wide margin. With continued support from Nicholls and fellow West Country trainer Colin Tizzard, Cobden has pressed on with his career, riding 76, 109 and 83 winners in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively. His meteoric rise to the top of his profession has already included seven Grade One winners and he looks to have a bright future.
John Patrick McManus, almost invariably known in racing circles as ‘J.P.’, is an Irish billionaire, best known as the largest owner in National Hunt racing. At the last count, McManus had over 550 horses in training; in the 2019/20 National Hunt season, his familiar green and gold colours – ‘borrowed’ from his home Gaelic Athletic Association club, South Liberties – were carried to victory 79 times, earning £2.14 million in prize money and making him Champion Jumps Owner in Britain by £1.39 million.
His biggest single earner in 2019/20 was Epatante, trained by Nicky Henderson, who collected £79,467 for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, McManus is the leading owner in the history of the two-mile hurdling championship with nine winners, including the last four – namely Buveur D’Air in 2017 and 2018, Espoir d’Allen in 2019 and Epatante in 2020 – and a notable hat-trick by Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
In fact, McManus is, far and away, the leading owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival as a whole, with 66 winners. Of the main ‘championship’ races, aside from the Champion Hurdle, he has won the Stayers’ Hurdle three times, with Baracouda in 2002 and 2003 and More Of That in 2014, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup once, with Synchronised in 2012. He also famously won the Grand National with Don’t Push It – the one and only winner of the celebrated steeplechase for Tony McCoy – in 2010.
In Britain, the 2019/20 National Hunt season was originally due to end on April 25, but concluded prematurely, on March 18, when the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that all horse racing would be suspended until the end of April, at the earliest, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, Brian Hughes, who is based in Cleveland in North East England, rode 141 winners, 19 more than his nearest rival, Richard Johnson, to win the Jump Jockeys’ Championship for the first time. Indeed, Hughes became the first jockey other than Johnson or Sir Anthony McCoy to win the title since 1995/96 and the first northern-based jockey to do so since Jonjo O’Neill in 1979/80.
Originally from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, Hughes, 34, was Champion Conditional Jockey in 2007/08, but achieved his best seasonal tally as a fully-fledged professional in 2018/19, when he rode 146 winners. However, even in the abbreviated 2019/20 season, Hughes only fell five short of that total and, while Richard Johnson was sidelined for nearly six weeks in January and February with a broken arm, few could deny that the newly-crowned champion fully deserved his success. In fact, Hughes was already three winners ahead when Johnson sustained the injury – he was unseated from his mount, Westend Story, in a novices’ chase at Exeter on January 21 and subsequently kicked by a rival – and, with a career-best strike rate of 20%, his title win was hardly a fluke.