A SUCCESSFUL race-riding career which saw me compete at the highest level in Ireland, Britain and the US was prematurely ended due to an ongoing neck injury. Since retiring from the saddle, I have worked in different roles within the stud farm sector, where I am currently employed as Stallion Man at Glenview Stud in Fermoy. Having been involved with horses all of my life, it is fantastic to have found this new opportunity which allows me the chance to remain very much involved in the industry.
My older brother Paul (Crowley), who was already an established point-to-point rider by the time I finished primary school, got the ball rolling for me at an early age. He used to bring me to schooling races and point-to-points when I was 10 or 11, so I got the bug even then.
Two years previously, I had started pony racing, where I quickly racked up the winners for trainers such as Noel Fehily and Denis Hayes. I particularly looked forward to Dingle each year; the Cheltenham of the sport for us kids. It was the one time on the calendar when us southern riders competed against our northern counterparts, giving us the opportunity to compare skills.
At 12, I started going up to Paddy Mullins’ yard in Co Kilkenny every weekend and on school holidays. My father would bring Davy Russell and Barry Keniry with us, dropping them at Willie Mullins’ stables on the way. I got a great grounding during those years, as I was very fortunate to be surrounded by some wonderful horsemen.
Back then, the law required you to stay in secondary school until the age if 16 but I was lucky to have a very understanding teacher in Kieran O’Driscoll. The latter, who had horses in training with Joe Crowley, knew of my exploits in pony races, so pulled some strings to get me out early! I started with Aidan O’Brien when he was still in Piltown and stayed on when Frances Crowley took over the licence.
Making The Cut (Aidan O’Brien) was my first winner under rules at Tipperary in May 1997. A week later, I rode my first career double, winning both bumpers at Wexford for Aidan (O’Brien) and Paddy Mullins respectively. In all, I rode close to 30 winners for Aidan O’Brien/Frances Crowley, including four from five rides at the 1998 Tralee Festival (leading rider).
Welsh Grand National
Having felt that I had done as much as I could in the amateur ranks, I spoke with Tom O’Mahony, who kindly arranged for me to join Venetia Williams in Britain. The quality of horse in her yard at that time was second to none and as second jockey to Norman Williamson, I was afforded plenty opportunities.
In 2000, I enjoyed a career highlight, when winning the Welsh Grand National aboard Jocks Cross while still a 3lb claimer. Over the next six seasons, I rode numerous winners for the yard before a serious neck injury saw me spend 11 months on the sidelines. By the time I returned to action, Sam Thomas had established himself with the Venetia Williams stable, so I moved on to Lambourn. I rode winners for the likes of Richard Rowe, Mark Pitman and Emma Lavelle in the months that followed but by the end of 2006, I decided to move back home to Ireland.
Initially, I rode out for Paul Cashman, who aside from his stud farms, had 10 or 12 horses in training. After some time, he suggested that I should renew the licence and after doing so, I found that my passion for race-riding was as strong as ever. I rode a winner for Rodger Sweeney (Fiery Oscar) at Clonmel and was also successful on 100/1 outsider Tenormore for Paul Flynn at Bangor.
Spurred on by those wins, I decided to give my career one last shot by relocating to the US. I had seen how well fellow Irish jockeys had done over there in recent years and felt I had it in me to give it another try.
In 2010, I went over to Jonathan Sheppard, who would be the equivalent of Willie Mullins in American jump racing. Early successes on a couple of stable second strings got me off to a flying start and from there I never looked back. I enjoyed big race wins at Saratoga, which is the biggest meeting on the US calendar and was regularly among the leading jockeys in the country.
However, by 2013, I was growing concerned about my neck, following a couple of heavy falls on very quick ground. Following MRI scans, doctors advised me that it would be in my best interests to retire from race-riding as I couldn’t afford to get another bad injury. I stayed in America for a further year, working with stallions at WinStar Farm in Kentucky.
Among the sires standing at that stud were Tiznow, Distorted Humor and Pioneerof The Nile. I had done a season with Paul Cashman after coming back from Britain but this was the first time I worked with stallions full-time.
In 2015, I came home to Ireland, starting from scratch as I tried to find a new path on my journey. A year later, I was back at Glenview Stud, where I now look after six stallions for Paul Cashman. My interest in pedigrees dates back to the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in 1996 when Tommy Treacy rode the favourite, Love The Lord, in the Powers Gold Cup. As the camera focussed in on that particular horse, Robert Hall remarked that she was a granddaughter of Sir Ivor and I was fascinated that the legendary racehorse had produced such a high-class mare.
I quickly swapped my school books for The Irish Field Directory and discovered stallions such as Sadler’s Wells, Darshaan, Danzig, etc.
Having retained a close interest in results and pedigrees ever since, I am really enjoying this new challenge which offers me a unique insight. I find myself closely following the fortunes of the Glenview stallion’s progeny and my wife Ria and I also have two thoroughbred broodmares which is a new adventure for us. We are still learning the ropes but enjoying the journey. Who knows, maybe one day their exploits will help write a new chapter in my life within racing.
Brian Crowley was in conversation with John O’Riordan