You used to watch Brian Crowley ride winners over jumps. Now, you can watch him lead the fathers of future winners around a barn.
The Irishman, retired from a career as a steeplechase jockey where he rode more than 200 winners in his home country, England and the United States, recently joined the team at Northview Stallion Station and will spend the breeding season in Pennsylvania with El Padrino, Bullsbay, Medallist, Fairbanks, Jump Start and Smarty Jones. The stallions are in good hands. Saturday, at Northview’s open house, Crowley made sure the boys were shined up and ready for inspection – no straw in the tails, no dirt on the feet. The ex-jockey led them out, stood them up, got them walking, even made sure they posed for some photos by the fans. As usual, the day featured a mix of serious inspectors (mare owners, breeders, owners, trainers) and casual visitors. Northview welcomed them all with a relaxed atmosphere, some light refreshments and even a little heat on a bitter winter day at the farm near Peach Bottom. One grateful fan even handed Crowley a bag of starlight mints for the horses.
Like the rest of the Northview team, Crowley will be happy when Smarty Jones, Jump Start and E Dubai return from South America and breeding season starts for real in a few weeks. The stallion operation, with divisions in Maryland and Pennsylvania, has long been a leader in the region but has endured a tough stretch over the past several months with the death of Silver Train in Brazil, the exits of employees Louis Merryman and Carl McEntee and the relocation of Street Magician to the new Heritage Stallions in Maryland.
Bloodstock manager Paul O’Loughlin was recently hired to replace McEntee, while Pennsylvania farm manager Bobby Goodyear (who joins Northview after a long career at Derry Meeting Farm) and Pennsylvania stallion manager Crowley came on board late last year.
“We’re all quite new, but we’re all pulling together and we’re going to do a good job,” said Crowley. “The horses are well cared for, it’s a good group and we’re excited about the year.”
Crowley spent three years at a stud farm in Ireland, while on the shelf from his jockey career with an injury, and worked at Kentucky’s WinStar Farm in 2013. The farm stands upwards of 20 stallions, big names like Distorted Humor, Speightstown, Tiznow, More Than Ready, Congrats, Colonel John, Bodemeister and so on. Crowley said the stallions bred 3,000 times last year. He appreciated the experience, loved the horses, but thought about getting back to this area, to a smaller farm, to a place where he could grow into a bigger role.
Northview offered the opportunity and he jumped at it. He’s more than a stud groom, and will leave the opinions and nicking suggestions to O’Loughlin, but will be in the breeding shed, making sure things run smoothly with the stallions.
“From a very young age, I’ve been fascinated about stallions and what makes a good horse,” he said. “It was always number two to race riding for me. Some people like pinhooking and things. That’s something you grow into. Working with stallions gives me a lot of enjoyment. It’s an important part of the whole racing game.”
Crowley likes the mix of horses in the barn. Saturday, he and the rest of the staff showed them off while O’Loughlin answered questions. Fairbanks tried to bite and got a short reprimand, “He just likes to nibble,” Crowley said to a concerned guest. El Padrino came as advertised, flashy and sharp. Bullsbay would win a wrestling match with a grizzly bear. Medallist still looks fast. A week earlier at the Maryland farm, Crowley watched others do the showing and took mental notes as Buffum, Orientate, Great Notion, the patriarch Not For Love and the others took their turns.
Bullsbay (left) is a favorite, as you might expect from an ex-jump jockey. The son of Tiznow is a big horse – lots of bone and power. He didn’t run at 2, raced just once at 3. He blossomed at 4 and 5 though, winning seven times including the Grade 1 Whitney and collecting most of his $923,000 bankroll. Bullsbay stood his first three seasons at Northview in Maryland and moved to Pennsylvania for this year.
“He’s got a great walk to him, a lot of presence about him, good bone and is a very correct horse,” Crowley said. “They’re all very well behaved and have good manners but he always means business and is great to deal with. For a big horse he’s very light on his feet.”
New kid El Padrino drew plenty of looks Saturday and will attract even more thanks to a strong pedigree and a blazing (if short) racing career. The chestnut son of Pulpit is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Verrazano, who stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky. His little brother is the Mid-Atlantic alternative, at $5,000. Crowley likes the tall chestnut, who was getting the most looks Saturday.
“He’s got size, muscle, conformation,” he said. “It’s hard to believe the size of him when you hear he won a maiden 2-year-old race at Belmont Park by 13 lengths. It goes to show how much class he had. There’s good talk about him.”
El Padrino made just eight starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, winning the Grade 2 Risen Star and placing fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in 2012. He was 13th in the Kentucky Derby, then went on the shelf before finishing second in allowance company at Gulfstream Park at the end of his 3-year-old year. Looks count, but his pedigree also packs a punch. Bred by Emory Hamilton, El Padrino hails from a female family that includes his second dam, Grade 1 winner Chic Shirine, Grade 2 winners Wadoboro and Tara Roma, Grade 1 winner Serra Lake. Hamilton campaigned another relative, Grade 2 turf winner Hungry Island. Others in the family include Too Chic, Somali Lemonade, Al Khali, Queena and Brahms.
Crowley has yet to see Smarty Jones and Jump Start and knows the breeding season starts for real next month. The ex-jockey will be jumping so to speak.
“My job will be first thing in the morning to find out what stallion is covering to what mare at what time,” he said. “You work around that. The stallions that aren’t covering early get turned out. The stallions that are covering early get ready and then they get turned out later in the morning. There’s some science to it, too. You get to know the horses. You have to put your time in and learn it. I’m excited about it all starting.”
If he misses jump racing, he doesn’t let on though he did answer one hypothetical question: Which stallion would you ride in a race?
“Medallist going to the first fence because he’s the quickest, then Bullsbay because he’s got the size to go through them but he’s intelligent and would not hurt himself or you.”
For more, see Northview Stallion Station website.
See Brian Crowley in action. Aboard winner History Boy at Saratoga in 2012.