Stuart Crawford is targeting more Dublin Racing Festival heroics after a fairytale end to the 2022 event, writes Ben Hart.
Anyone who left Leopardstown prior to the final race of last year’s extravaganza would have been cursing their luck, with arguably the most dramatic finish saved until last.
Lily Du Berlais came up trumps for Larne-based Crawford in the Grade 2 Coolmore N.H. Sires Santiago Irish EBF Mares Flat Race, a victory that was made all the more special by the fact his brother Ben was in the saddle.
“It means that much more,” said Crawford.
“If you are getting a winner, it's always better if a lot of people can take enjoyment out of it rather than just yourself.
“With Ben, there’s just even more association with it. It’s great whenever your brother is able to ride them and I was lucky to have Stephen too before he retired.
“We were on the edge of our seats. It was a blanket finish that was probably one of the best finishes of the weekend, if not the best, so it was a very satisfying result.
“Wins like that are what make the days. If you're lucky enough to have a day like we had at Leopardstown last year, that can mask a lot of hours of hard work and make it all worthwhile.”
For Crawford and his band of brothers, race victories are not the only yardstick of success.
They have a keen eye for talent, having sourced and developed the likes of Cheltenham Festival supremo Ballynagour and Irish Grand National winner General Principle in years gone by.
The balance between an owner’s financial demands and their aspirations on the track is key and remains a line Crawford is adept at treading.
“Much of our approach depends on the clientele you're working with,” explained Crawford.
“Not everyone is financially in a position where if you happen to come across a good horse, they're able to keep it and to run it.
“All of a sudden, a horse can win a couple of races and have value – you can’t begrudge someone from wanting to sell. Our business has probably been built on that up until now.
“Our aim for this year, as it is most years, is just trying to unearth the next star.”
On a personal level, Crawford has not given up ambitions of landing a first Grade 1 winner, having finished second on two occasions, which both came at Punchestown some eight years apart.
“That's the next thing in my sights," he said. "We’ve been lucky enough to have a few that have placed but I'd love to have one that's good enough to win.”
Whether that comes in this year’s Dublin Racing Festival remains to be seen, with Crawford set to enter just four horses.
Lily Du Berlais returns looking to defend her title, while there is some top-level interest with Gold Cup Bailly and O’Toole both currently entered in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase.
And ahead of one of the biggest weekends in the calendar, Crawford is relishing the prospect of going toe-to-toe with the biggest operators in Irish racing once more.
“It’s a big, big festival,” he said. “If you're lucky enough to get a winner, it's a great occasion. Obviously if you're a smaller stable against someone with bigger powers then it’s even sweeter.
“If you are at all competitive, you want to be involved in those big days. For some of the smaller yards, you maybe only get to do that once or twice in the season.
“We're not going to have many darts to fire this year but hopefully we can make them count.”