This young jockey has enjoyed a meteoric rise of late, claiming his first Classic victory on home turf in September. Hannah Lemieux meets him
Like Father Christmas over the festive period, jockey Tom Marquand is a very busy man. The 22-year-old Flat jockey travels across the country on a daily basis, riding multiple horses for a plethora of owners and trainers, making him very hard to pin down for this particular interview.
When we do catch up, Tom has just pulled into Haydock Park Racecourse ahead of a day’s racing. Credit to the young jockey, he makes time to talk over the phone despite being so busy – a nod to his grounded nature. His meteoric rise from promising fledgling to a world-class rider now sees him sitting third in the jockey championship race. Success at such a young age could easily result in a sudden ego, but Tom’s ability to keep his feet on the ground is something he is respected for – he comes across as personable and hard-working.
Tom is talented in his own right, but he is also one half of a power duo. With jockey-girlfriend Hollie Doyle riding into the history books herself, breaking the British record for winners ridden in a year by a woman, these two are a force to be reckoned with.
H&H talks to Tom on the eve of QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, the grand finale of the Flat racing season in this country. Just over 24 hours later, Tom and Hollie have made headlines, taking four of the six races between them – a double and a Group One race each – defining themselves as racing’s golden couple.
Tom’s own riding career turned a corner in the spring when he claimed two Group Ones in Australia, during which Britain was in national lockdown. While Covid-19 dampened 2020 for many, Tom’s year was only going to get better. With the return of racing in June, he went on to clinch his first Classic victory on home turf – aboard Galileo Chrome in Doncaster’s Group One feature, the St Leger Stakes, in September. It was also a catch ride for Tom, who was originally booked to ride English King in the big race. However, the horse was rerouted last minute to a race in Paris instead.
The twist of fortune came when Galileo Chrome’s regular jockey, Shane Crosse, tested positive for coronavirus before his flight to the UK from Ireland and he was forced into isolation for 14 days.
Tom was then the “lucky” jockey to get legged up on the Joseph O’Brien-trained colt, while Shane watched the race on the TV in despair as Tom steered the three-year-old to a neck victory in the Classic.
“I obviously won the St Leger in different circumstances, but I was so happy to get my first Classic under my belt,” said Tom.
“Only a small spread of jockeys are able to say they have done that. Once Shane was unable to ride, many of the jockey agents were fighting for Galileo Chrome – he was a decent ride – and I was just the lucky one in the end. My agent Sash Righton did a great job getting me on him.”
A non-horsey background
Tom grew up near Cheltenham, an area naturally steeped in racing history, but was born to non-horsey parents. Riding lessons as a child fuelled his ambitions to become a jockey – despite not having any racing links, unlike many young jockeys these days.
“My Gran used to have a horse, so I guess that was my first introduction to horses, and then aged 11 we loaned a pony,” reflects Tom.
However, it was a racing pony “borrowed from a family friend” that got a young Tom hooked on the adrenaline of race-riding within his first season.
“I knew as a child that I wanted to be a jockey but I am not 100% sure why because I had no connections in the sport. But I have fond memories of pony racing camps at the British Racing School in Newmarket.”
Tom met Hollie, 24, through pony racing aged just 13 and they have been growing their careers together for nearly a decade. For racing fans, it may feel like the pair have been around for a while, but it is perhaps more a case of two wise heads on young shoulders – they have already achieved milestones in the saddle many jockeys wait a whole career (if ever) for.
In turn, they have kept each grounded. “I think that is all part of being successful – not adjusting your mindset despite your accomplishments. I think Hollie and I have kept each other level-headed, perhaps without even realising it. We share the good days and move on from the bad days together.”
While still at school, Tom rode out for trainers Tony Carroll and Jonjo O’Neill at the weekends and during the holidays. On leaving, he went to America and rode for trainer Tom Morley, before returning home and starting out as an apprentice jockey for Richard Hannon in November 2014. His first winner came a mere two weeks later.
“After reading AP McCoy’s autobiography, I did wonder if I could be a jump jockey,” he quips. “I thought I would start off on the Flat before I got too heavy – but then I just never grew.”
The Hungerford-based jockey had been fortunate with minimal injuries until he got kicked while riding in Australia over the winter and chipped the top of his fibula. Determined to carry on riding, he kept the injury quiet and rode to multiple victories including his Group Ones.
“I was in agony riding, so I am glad it paid off with those wins,” he says.
Having to quarantine on his return to the UK in the spring meant he had time to rest and recuperate before racing resumed once again.
With the curtain now closing on the 2020 Flat season, the leading jockeys will be fighting it out in the championship title race until 7 November. At the time of writing, Tom currently sits in third with 112 wins, while Hollie is in fourth with 94.
Current champion Oisin Murphy is leading the way, but Tom will be doing everything he can to catch runner-up William Buick at least, who is 16 wins ahead.
“Last season was the first time I rode enough winners to be involved in the jockey championship and have a chance,” adds Tom. “Being champion is what every jockey wants.”
Tom has teamed up fruitfully with Newmarket handler William Haggas and they have enjoyed much success together in past seasons. Tom’s recent Group One victory during Champions Day came aboard the Haggas-trained Addeybb. The six-year-old son of Pivotal was jetted off to Australia last winter and provided Tom with both his Group Ones down under.
Both Tom and Hollie enjoyed their first Royal Ascot successes in June with the meeting being held behind closed doors. Tom steered the Alan King-trained Who Dares Wins to victory in the Queen Alexandra Stakes – a day after Hollie’s debut success at the Royal meeting on Scarlet Dragon, for the same owners.
Among his highlights, Tom considers finishing in the top-three of the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2015 a “great achievement”.
“Looking back, it’s something I am really proud of, but at the time I’m not sure I quite realised what a big deal it was,” he muses.
Days off are few and far between when you are one of the country’s busiest Flat jockeys. When we speak, Tom has just enjoyed his first day away from racing in about four months. But instead of a sofa day, he took the bike out.
“I’m lucky that I do enjoy exercise, I don’t see it as a chore or a sacrifice – but some people think I’m crazy! When you’re busy riding you just crack on and accept it, but then when you do stop for a day, you realise how full-on it has been.”
When it comes to the scales, Tom adds: “Hollie is fortunate not to have to worry about her riding weight, whereas I have to be careful. I always wake up heavy and have to lose a few pounds each day when racing. I love cooking for the both of us, but it’s rare we are at home at the same time – we’re usually racing at different ends of the country. But on the odd day off we treat ourselves to something nice from the local butchers.”
He may have to share the limelight with his equally successful girlfriend, but there is no doubt these childhood sweethearts will be battling it out for the champion jockey title together for many more years to come.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 November 2020