Crowley hails ‘special’ race as Hukum takes King George title

By Sports Desk July 29, 2023

Sport does not always scale the heights anticipated. Yet inarguably, with toes hanging off the edge, this King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes offered an epic view.

One wishes more dare scale the steep, magnificent Ascot grandstand steps to witness such an incredible spectacle of rippling thoroughbred power.

On such occasions, one has a vague idea of what will unfold before the eyes. This was refreshingly different, there was not an inkling what to expect from either racegoers or participants.

“No-one is ducking it,” Hukum’s jockey Jim Crowley succinctly put it beforehand, “which means everyone fancied their chances.”

None more so than him, as it turned out.

This season’s search for such a clash of the crème de la crème had reached the rainbow’s end, for this was as close to nirvana as a horse race gets.

There had been very little swinging and missing. Emily Upjohn had won the Coronation, with runner-up Westover subsequently taking the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Reigning champion Pyledriver had scored with ease on his belated comeback in the Hardwicke, dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin had only been luckless in the 2000 Guineas, and the other young pretender, King Of Steel, had gained compensation for a narrow Epsom defeat by taking the King Edward VII over course and distance. Luxembourg had a Tattersalls Gold Cup in the locker.

All in good form. Connections, to a man, hopeful if not confident, even given the unseasonably good to soft ground.

Superlatives are dangerous things, often inviting contradiction and sometimes scorn. Yet from overture to curtain, what unfolded was a drama for the ages, perhaps not quite on a par with Grundy and Bustino in 1975, yet ovation-worthy, nonetheless.

The bare result saw Hukum beat Westover by a head. King Of Steel was a further four and a half lengths back in third, with Auguste Rodin beaten before the race got started, suggesting something more than the ground was amiss.

Crowley had tasted some extraordinary moments with Hukum’s full brother Baaeed. Yet after a monumental battle with the doughty Westover for the last two furlongs, Rob Hornby’s mount matching the six-year-old blow for lung-busting blow, and having come out on top, the victor knew he had been part of another historic race.

“This was special,” said Crowley. “It was a great race to be part of. I knew going into the race, I wouldn’t swap him – and every jockey in the race said the same about their horse.

“Hence why everybody turned up as we all thought we could win.

“It was amazing, really. Both myself, the horse, Rob Hornby and Westover, were giving it everything. The kitchen sink is thrown in those situations.

“It must have been exciting to watch. To come out on top, it was fantastic, probably the most enjoyable race I’ve ever won. It was a race for the ages – just fantastic.”

Crowley’s ride was masterful. There were plenty in with chances as they swung six abreast round the home turn tracking Pyledriver. While he had to be reminded, Hukum lengthened his stride with a sudden explosive power that is flat racing’s most exhilarating sight.

Pyledriver and King Of Steel both ran their races, but while Crowley was was happily deciding they were beaten, he knew with greater certainty that once Westover had almost drawn upsides, the game could well have been up.

Yet the former champion has been here before and once Westover had served it up, Hukum had locked on to the task in hand and knocked it out of the park.

“The ground had dried out more than I was hoping for, but he is not essentially a soft-ground horse – he just likes good ground,” Crowley added.

“He missed the Hardwicke, which was good to firm and that was a good decision.

“He is just a very good horse who is getting better with age. He is finally coming out of his brother’s shadow now.

“He is just hard as nails, he is chilled, walks round the paddock like he owns the place – he’s a real dude.

“In some ways he’s flown under the radar, as he is a six-year-old, who has just won that one Group One, but if you go through his form, he hasn’t finished out the first three many times. He is a proper, tough horse.”

Hukum will likely be given a break, before being brought back for ParisLongchamp.

“You’d have to say the obvious race would be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe now,” said Crowley. “He would get his conditions there and you always need a bit of luck round there – a low draw is very important. But let’s enjoy today – this was special.”

His victims offered no excuses, this was just a rare and precious thing – an entirely satisfactory all-aged midsummer highlight, won by the best horse and a great rider. This was as good as it gets.

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