Under starter’s orders for a fascinating race to be champion Flat jockey

Four of the main contenders for the Stobart Flat jockeys' championship, pictured with the trophy. They are (from left) William Buick, reigning champion Jim Crowley, Oisin Murphy and Silvestre De Sousa (PHOTO BY: onEdition)

Four of the main contenders for the Stobart Flat jockeys' championship, pictured with the trophy. They are (from left) William Buick, reigning champion Jim Crowley, Oisin Murphy and Silvestre De Sousa (PHOTO BY: onEdition)

After the crowning of Richard Johnson as champion Jumps jockey for the second season running, attention now turns to the race to be number one rider on the Flat.

The Flat jockeys’ title, sponsored by Stobart, no longer covers the whole of the season, although there is still a £15,000 prize for the pilot steering home most winners during the full calendar year.

Instead it focuses on the key period of the campaign, which covers the Qipco British Champions Series and all the big meetings and races. It begins with the Qipco Guineas Festival at Newmarket this weekend and concludes on British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday, October 21.

Last season’s champion was, for the first time, Jim Crowley who, at one point, was a wild outsider for the title at 66/1. The success of Crowley, who is one of the few jockeys to have ridden in both the Derby and the Grand National, came without a single Group One winner. But it earned him a new job as the retained rider for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, replacing Paul Hanagan, so he is one of the favourites for the title this time round.

Crowley said: “2016 was incredible and I couldn’t be more proud to be Stobart Champion Flat Jockey. It’s going to be tough and very competitive this year, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Hanagan has returned to the north to ride primarily for the powerful Richard Fahey team, which will give him plenty of ammunition to win his third championship. Also firmly in the mix for the title is 2015 champion Silvestre De Sousa, who is continuing to receive the support of the resurgent Godolphin operation, despite losing his official role on the team.

Another former champion, Ryan Moore, widely regarded as one of the best jockeys this country has ever produced, is another in the running for the championship, although his commitments in Ireland and overseas for Aidan O’Brien and the Ballydoyle operation will again restrict the number of rides he has in this country.

Andrea Atzeni and William Buick are polished operators sure to have their supporters, while at bigger prices, Oisin Murphy, James Doyle and also Adam Kirby, who is currently top of the standings for winners since January 1, are not without a chance. Many punters will be tempted too by 33/1 about a certain Frankie Dettori, one of the true greats of world racing and still going strong at the age of 46. There has even been support, at 66/1, for last year’s champion apprentice jockey, Josephine Gordon, while odds of 100/1 might be considered a bit of an insult to one hugely-overrated jockey in the form of his life at present, namely Richard Kingscote.

One thing’s for sure: it promises to be a fascinating battle and, hopefully, it will yield as exciting a climax as the duels for the Jumps trainers’ titles in the UK and Ireland between Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls and between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott that have just been decided.

Pat Cooney, of bookies bet 365, said: “Jim Crowley was backed at big prices last year by several shrewd punters, and it soon became clear to us that he was going all out to win the title.

“It will be harder for him this time with his new retainer, though, and we’re happy to make Silvestre De Sousa favourite, with Paul Hanagan his main danger.

“Both will benefit from being freelance riders throughout the season. That said, it may not be a high number required to win it this season, so we’ll keep monitoring the leaderboard on a daily basis. But it’s always wise to look at the outsiders, especially with several younger jockeys breaking through.”

Bet 365’s latest prices are: Silvestre De Sousa 11/8, Paul Hanagan 15/8, Jim Crowley 6/1, Ryan Moore 6/1, Andrea Atzeni 10/1, William Buick 12/1, Fran Berry 14/1, James Doyle 20/1, Oisin Murphy 20/1, Adam Kirby 20/1, Frankie Dettori 33/1, Luke Morris 50/1, Danny Tudhope 50/1, Paul Mulrennan 66/1, Jamie Spencer 66/1, Josephine Gordon 66/1, Joe Fanning 100/1, Graham Gibbons 100/1, Franny Norton 100/1, Jack Garrity 100/1, Pat Dobbs 100/1, Richard Kingscote 100/1, Tom Marquand 100/1, Sean Levey 100/1, Tom Queally 100/1, Robert Winston 100/1, Connor Beasley 100/1.