British Champions Day: Aidan O'Brien closes on record while Jim Crowley set for title

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Experience jockey cam at Ascot racecourse

Most talk of records heading to British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday revolves around whether the rampantly dominant Aidan O'Brien might get closer to becoming the most successful trainer ever in terms of winning top-level races in a single year.

In 2003, the late Bobby Frankel - after whom the unbeaten champion racehorse-turned-stallion was named - set a world record for Grade or Group One races when masterminding, from his California HQ, success in 25.

Thirteen years later, Ireland-based O'Brien is on the 21 mark going into the sixth staging of the Qipco-sponsored flat season-finale, when four of the last five Group One prizes that take place in Britain and Ireland are up for grabs - there are still three to go in France and more at the US's Breeders Cup fixture in November.

Aidan O'Brien receiving the leading trainer's trophy at Royal Ascot from The Queen
Aidan O'Brien, seen here receiving the leading trainer's trophy at the Royal Ascot meeting earlier in the year, could be set for a greater prestige on Saturday

Leading a formidable Group One charge on Champions Day from the trainer's Ballydoyle, County Tipperary stables are three Coolmore-owned fillies: the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found (in the Champion Stakes); Minding, successful in the 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks (Queen Elizabeth II Stakes); and Irish Oaks victor Seventh Heaven (Fillies and Mares Stakes).

However, while O'Brien can't be absolutely certain about the latest landmark in his staggering career, Jim Crowley can be crystal clear about his next big moment: at Ascot, he'll receive a first champion jockey's trophy from double Olympic show-jumping champion Nick Skelton.

And there's more, because with 253 wins under National Hunt rules, between 1998 and 2006 when based mainly on the less-fashionable northern circuit, Crowley also becomes the first one-time regular jump jockey to end up at the top of the tree on the flat, having switched codes.

Jim Crowley was a 66-1 outsider to win the title of champion jockey this year
Jim Crowley was an outsider before the season began

He admits he could not have imagined it, especially when picking himself up and dusting himself down after taking his sole mount in the Aintree Grand National, in the rain-soaked 2001 edition, when Red Marauder led home just three other finishers.

"I didn't get very far [on 150-1 outsider Art Prince]," he said, "not beyond the first fence - we fell there. But I did get round in the Pardubice [the fearsome Czech steeplechase] which not many do.

"I've grown up in a point-to-point family - it was always in my blood, jumping - and you can't replace the same buzz you get from riding a nice jumper [when competing] on the flat, it's impossible and I can totally understand why the boys go for one ride here and there over jumps because it's such a buzz.

"My father-in-law [ex-trainer Guy Harwood] encouraged me to give the flat a go one summer, and from a business point of view I found myself riding a lot more winners with better prize money, and because it's less perilous I could see my career lasting longer."

So, winning the title sees Crowley - born and bred in Ascot, but surprisingly without a win at the track this year - complete an unlikely long-term journey from hitting the Aintree turf; and, short-term, it's been fairly extraordinary too.

Silvestre de Sousa
Silvestre de Sousa won the champion jockey title with 132 winners last year - this year Crowley has more than 140

Because it wasn't until July in this second year of the new-look 2000 Guineas (April 30) to Champions Day season - not welcomed by those who insist the former March to November format worked better - that the 38-year-old's challenge gathered momentum.

But with agent Tony Hind scenting victory, and a willingness to go anywhere for a winner - sometimes by helicopter - a whirlwind run of 38 wins in August and then a record 46 in September, took him storming to the top after a duel with reigning champion Silvestre De Sousa.

Though, perhaps recalling that time as a jump jockey when the dangers of the job meant nothing could be taken for granted, he's resolutely refused to count his chickens, even after shaking off De Sousa.

Crowley, who'll be riding outsiders on Champions Day, told BBC Sport: "September was phenomenal, but it should have been fifty if I hadn't made a pig's ear of a few. The previous month had been great, and I didn't honestly think I could better that.

"People were beginning to think my wife [Lucinda] was a single parent to our three children; I was never at home, I was on the road a lot and it was very tough, mentally and physically, but it was well worth it in the end."

Others who've conquered this particular peak, particularly after a draining tussle, were too exhausted to even contemplate a repeat, and when I put that to the new champion, he said: "It does take a lot out of you, and I can see why the likes of Frankie [Dettori] and Ryan [Moore] don't want to do it again, but we'll see what comes next year."

Is that a yes or a no, Jim? "Ha, it's a sitting on the fence, but if I'm in the same position again, then why not?"

Horses race past the Grandstand at Ascot
Coverage of British Champions Day on BBC Radio 5 live includes commentary on the Champion Stakes at 15:45 BST on Saturday 15 October

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