WHEN Shane Crosse walked out of the Curragh after riding State Of Rest in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, he had a bit of a bittersweet feeling.
State Of Rest was sent off 2/1 joint favourite, having won on his comeback run with Crosse on board in the Prix Ganay but he could only manage fourth on this day, and for his jockey the writing was on the wall very early.
“It wasn’t exactly over in the first furlong, but I was further further back than I wanted to be and if I wanted to get closer, I was going to end up racing three wide the whole way,” he reflects. “The gallop we went, it was probably always going to be hard to make up the ground from behind and he was the only horse coming off the pace who made a significant challenge. I thought it was a huge run to finish where he did.”
The sectional timing of the Gold Cup suggests that State Of Rest might have been the best horse in the race but eyecatchers don’t go into the history books. It’s never nice to lose but you lose often in racing. It’s best to take the positives, regroup and go again.
Crosse was hopeful he’d be riding State Of Rest in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes but he’s already long enough in this game to presume nothing and he waited until it was confirmed by O’Brien to start thinking about the race.
Indeed, there would have been a fair portion of people who felt it was a big call for O’Brien to make. Sure, Crosse had ridden State Of Rest to win a Group 1 already, but now he was taking on Royal Ascot, taking on literally the two best riders of all time at the meeting - Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori - and he had never ridden on the round course at Ascot.
But O’Brien has always shown a lot of faith in the 20-year-old. Ever since he popped out of his dad’s car for the first time at Owning Hill five summers ago.
Perhaps the biggest show of that trust from his boss was to allow him to ride in pattern races while he still held a 5lb claim. That sort of employment is illogical in a technical sense, but O’Brien clearly felt Crosse’s talent in the saddle outweighed the inexperience that his claim signified, and that’s a big call. So while it may have been a surprise to some to see Crosse keep the ride, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone at Owning Hill.
Crosse walked the Ascot round course with O’Brien, Declan McDonogh and Mikey Sheehy on the Tuesday and it was on this walk that they hatched a plan for the race.
They weren’t sure who might make the running. Maybe the Japanese horse, Shahryar, but then, he’d never made the running before. After deliberations, O’Brien felt that a front-running ride might be the way to go, to fully utilise their draw in stall one. He slept on it, talked again with Crosse on Wednesday morning and it was decided then.
“I think we couldn’t have dreamt it would have gone so well,” Crosse says. “But even with those tactics, I still think the best horse won on the day.”
State Of Rest and Shane Crosse on their way to victory under the Ascot grandstand \ Healy Racing
They might well have been the case, but State Of Rest was undoubtedly given a maximised chance of winning by his rider. Crosse got the lead from his inside draw, got his horse travelling comfortably at a pace he was happy with and the closer he got to the winning post, the further his confidence grew. The others played to his tune.
“It was probably from five furlongs out that I thought I could win,” he recalls. “I wasn’t getting challenged. Anybody who makes the running, it’s always a dream when nobody is pestering you. I never got taken on at any stage so I was able to completely do what I wanted in front, and it worked out perfectly.”
On passing the line, Crosse raised his arm to the crowd, the stuff any aspiring jockey dreams of. Considering his first two Group 1 wins came in front of empty stands, this one was always going to hit different - in front 50,000 at Royal Ascot. Like wheeling away in celebration after rattling one into the back of the net at Croke Park on All Ireland day.
“You know you probably don’t absorb the crowd when you’re down at the start,” he reflects. “It’s the before and after, and coming up the straight that you can feel it. Ah, it’s amazing. You couldn’t describe the feeling going by the winning post.
“It was only a few years ago that I was at home watching Royal Ascot. You’d be watching the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, which you end up riding against over there so to be winning those sort of races, or to have won one, whether it was the Prince Of Wales or any Ascot winner, it was a dream come through and it’ll take a long while to sink in.”
Numbers shouldn’t define a jockey, but they’re a good place to start. Sir Anthony McCoy swore by them. Shane Crosse has very good numbers. He won the apprentice title in his first full year riding. If he stays fit, he’ll ride his 200th winner this year. State Of Rest was his fourth Group 1 win, in three different countries. All this at the age of 20.
It’s going pretty well then?
“Yeah it is,” Crosse replies. “I’d say when I won on Pretty Gorgeous, I was thinking, ‘Wow, what a feeling, I’ll make sure I’ll savour it because you never know when the next one is going to be.’ Obviously, I really enjoyed when Thundering Nights won (Pretty Polly, last year), to get one at home and it was the same feeling again, I have to savour this.
“You’re always wondering where the next one might come from. With the likes of those two fillies, they retired, so you’re thinking, we’re running out here. To get on State Of Rest, you wouldn’t have dreamt it to be honest. With all he has achieved around the world, he is an amazing horse to be anyway associated with. You never know what is around the corner or what horse is going to pop up, that’s the beauty of the game.”
Crosse’s father Matt was a jockey. His career was just coming to an end when Shane and his older brother Nathan, another talented rider, were born, but there were always horses around at home. Still, both Shane and Nathan were relative latecomers to racing. Shane played a lot of soccer at a relatively high level when he was younger and it was only when he went pony racing that his eyes were opened to a career of race-riding.
“In fairness we were never pressured into it, made to get up on a horse or whatever,” he recalls. “We never had ponies or went off show jumping, so the first one we got on was a thoroughbred. It was kind of racing all the way. I loved it myself, Nathan wasn’t keen on the game until later on. He was probably 14 or 15 when he started to do pony racing, when he saw the kick I was getting out of it.
“Dad worked for Tommy Stack at the time and we just started going in with him on holidays and weekends, just practicing riding out, progressing away. Nathan got a job up with Willie McCreery and then Dad got offered a job to start working in Joseph O’Brien’s. He took me with him and I started off just riding weekends and then during the summer.
“Sure I loved it. I think it was the last day of summer when Joseph pulled up beside me asking how I was getting on pony racing and would I like to stay on working in the yard. I haven’t left since.”
Shane Crosse with Joseph O'Brien after winning on Twilight Spinner earlier this season \ Healy Racing
Crosse has progressed naturally at Owning Hill, in what you imagine is one of the most healthy environments anywhere in the racing world for a young jockey. And yet it feels somewhat like his reputation hasn’t risen in line with his phenomenal achievements. Whether that makes much of a difference to him or not pales in importance when you weigh it up against what O’Brien thinks of him. Clearly quite a lot.
The trainer has often spoken of the Crosse’s ability not to panic, to relax in a race and make better decisions accordingly.
When you are a multiple Group 1-winning rider, it probably comes a little easier confidence-wise, and that’s why Crosse had no problem walking into a Royal Ascot parade ring beside world class talent - Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori, Cristian Demuro and Mikael Barzalona.
“You know at the likes of Royal Ascot, you’re taking on the best riders around, but I couldn’t go out thinking, I’m not as good as these guys or how am I going to beat them. You can’t have that attitude, you need to be as positive as you can without being ridiculous. I had no doubt on myself or my own ability, I had no doubt on the horse’s ability, so you have to have a positive mindset and hopefully it pays off.
“I think everyone gets nervous. I get nervous as well although I might not show it all that much. In those big days, it might hit you a little bit but it can’t overtake what you’re about to do or else you’ll be no good. I think Joseph plays a huge role in that as well, there’s no pressure, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to a Ballinrobe, or the Curragh or Royal Ascot, you get your same instructions and you’re told what you’re to do and I never feel like I’m pressured.
“He’s very good in that way, he understands when a race doesn’t go the way we talked about. I make mistakes for sure, there’s no doubt about it, but Joseph is never one to knock you down and that’s probably the best thing about him, he’s very understanding.”
Before working with O’Brien, there was pony racing, and that has been an integral to Crosse’s success. He came through a generation of really talented riders - his brother Nathan was just ahead of him, then there was the likes of Ben Coen, Andrew Slattery, Joey Sheridan and Gavin Ryan. Probably unbeknown to them at the time, they were in a symbiotic environment, raising the bar for themselves and they have all made significant impact on the track since.
Pretty Gorgeous was Shane's first Group 1 success in the Fillies Mile \ FocusonRacing
“Pony racing was huge,” Crosse says. “When you become apprentices, it’s like having five years above the other 16-year-olds who have their licences. You at least know 50% of what’s going on, you know how to use your stick, you know how to ride a finish, you’d know a lot more about speed and pace.
“It’s a huge help and I think even to get into Joseph’s, he would have recognised I would have known what I was doing and he didn’t have to teach me as much as any other person getting their licence. I think that’s helped me fit in very well in the yard so it’s been a huge help.
“It’s terrible that the sector is going through a tough time at the moment. If there was no pony racing, there is definitely going to be a huge cut in the apprentices coming through for sure. It’s going to be very tough. I’d say 80% of the jockeys that come through, come from pony racing and you know it’s very seldom that you see someone signing on that you’ve never heard of or haven’t seen them doing pony racing.
“I think it’s going to make a huge difference but hopefully it can get sorted and someone can do something about it, but it definitely will impact the quality of jockeys coming through for sure.”
Crosse is among a majority of jockeys in today’s Irish Derby who have had the benefit of pony racing. He rides Hannibal Barca, who has an outside chance of registering him a first classic success in Ireland’s premier flat race.
“It’s great just to be riding in the race,” he says. “He was very good on his seasonal debut, winning the Gallinule. That was just his fourth run and he’ll grow up plenty for it. He’s quite a fresh horse, so it’ll probably have knocked the edge off him and put him right. You’d be hoping he’ll improve plenty. I’m looking forward to it.”
Indeed, Crosse has plenty to look forward to in general. He’s achieved plenty but there’s plenty more to chase.
“Being champion jockey would definitely be on my mind, anyone would love that,” he says. “But obviously if I’m fortunate enough to keep riding in good races and getting on brilliant horses, I’ll be very happy with that.
“Every year I’ve been riding, I’ve been setting personal goals and obviously this year I’d love to top last year’s tally. You like to keep going up the ladder instead of going down it. That’s it really, just keep on improving.”