Quiet reflection is not a state that comes naturally to Hollie Doyle or Tom Marquand, newly minted as British racing’s golden couple. No sooner did they return home to Hungerford last weekend from riding two winners apiece at Ascot, on Champions Day no less, than a precious Sunday off began to feel uncomfortably indolent. “We tried to relax in the morning, but I said, ‘Let’s go and do something,’” Doyle reflects. “So, we went shopping. We didn’t even buy anything, we just couldn’t sit there. I felt like my body was going into shutdown.”
It is rare to find a window when Doyle and Marquand can discuss their shared glories together, so seldom do their schedules intersect. Last Sunday marked their first joint day of rest since June 1. But as they settle down to dissect their lives at The Windmill in Chatham Green, a bucolic retreat near Chelmsford racecourse, the magnitude of recent feats starts to be revealed. Doyle had already propelled herself to wider notice at Windsor last month, becoming the first female jockey to ride five winners on the same British card. But it was the Ascot double-double alongside her boyfriend, highlighted by her first Group One triumph aboard Glen Shiel, that showcased the mutual joy of their story.
“For it to happen on the same day, at the same place, on such a major day of racing? I probably underestimated how much of an impact it had,” Marquand acknowledges. “We have always had the same goals. But this is the first time that we have had a ridiculously good day together.”
At 24 and 22, Doyle and Marquand have been together since their mid-teens, where they bonded over a love of pony racing. They exude the easy bliss of a pair who can discuss the other’s foibles or complete the other’s sentences without rebuke. For Doyle, the sport is all she has ever known, to the point where catches herself “having random thoughts about horses late at night”. Marquand’s own route was rather more exotic. Save for the proximity of his childhood home to Cheltenham, there was little in his background that signalled a future in racing, at least until his father, Richard, explained that he was resigning as director of a chemical engineering company and taking the family on two years’ sailing through the Mediterranean.
“I was only 11, and my dad sat my sister and I down and said, ‘This is what we’re planning to do. You can say yes or no,’” he recalls. “My only condition was that I could ride a horse in every place. I managed it in Corsica, Sardinia, Spain. In Spain, it was literally a case of handing over 20 euros and taking a horse. They just let you off on the beach by yourself. Who’s lucky enough to have that kind of experience as a kid?”
So natural was Marquand’s sense of balance, he thrived equally during winter holidays on the Alpine slopes, with one instructor emphasising that he had prospects as a ski racer. But as soon as he hit the pony circuit, where Doyle was already competing, he was smitten. “We never really had a difference of opinion in what we wanted to do,” he says. “It probably seems quite odd for most people, that from the age of 13 you know exactly where you want to go. We’re very lucky in that somehow it has worked, so far.”
The statistics bear this out: the couple lie third and fourth in this year’s Flat jockeys’ championship, with Marquand on 106 winners and Doyle 87. For the second time, Doyle has reached a century within a calendar year. When she amassed her 107th in 2019, it was a national record for a female jockey, but she quickly shrugged off the plaudits and resolved instead to try to make the extraordinary look routine. “I just thought, ‘I want to carry on doing this every year to prove it’s not a one-off,’” she says. “I hope I can, but I’m not so delusional as to think it’s straightforward.”
Doyle’s pedigree is such that she is being touted as the first woman with a genuine chance of being the country’s champion jockey. Any perceptions of a strength deficit were erased by the benefits of her obsessive gym work during lockdown. So consistent are her performances, she has rendered the prism of gender in racing almost redundant.
“Sometimes it can be a bit patronising,” Doyle says. “Sometimes you can be made to think that you’ve got this far just because you are a girl. From the outside looking in, it’s quite a big deal, I suppose. But everyone in the industry knows that the girls who are good enough can make it. Hayley Turner was champion apprentice in 2005, Josie Gordon in 2016.” “For us, it has always felt normalised,” Marquand interjects. “It’s not like, ‘Oh look, there’s a girl in the weighing room.’ Cathy Gannon was one of the stronger jockeys of her time. Now you’re top-tier, too.” “Yeah,” Doyle decides, “regardless of your opinion on women, this sport can be whatever you want it to be.”
By degrees, their achievements are resonating beyond the racing realm. They just need to allow themselves time to appreciate as much. In 2015, Marquand, at 17, was one of three finalists for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, having managed 54 winners in his first year at the Richard Hannon stables. But so remorselessly did he and his girlfriend chase around the country, they were little prepared for the black-tie treatment that followed.
“In all honesty, it came and went, and I probably didn’t recognise it for what it was,” he says. “We went to Belfast,” Doyle remembers. “I ironed my dress an hour before we were due at the arena and singed a hole in it. I had to go and buy another dress in the shop, but my size was so small. We found one that was supposed to be a short dress on someone else. It was still down to my ankles.”
Such is the myopia required to criss-cross the land every day for five months in search of the next winner, a jockey’s life can be painfully solitary. Doyle and Marquand are discovering, though, that two stellar individual careers can still complement one another. “We motivate each other,” Doyle says. “I want to be as good as Tom, because he has always been just a little bit better than me. And being with me from such a young age kept him on the right path. Some of the other lads go a bit crazy.” “They do,” Marquand agrees. “Especially those who taste success really quickly. Without someone keeping you on the straight and narrow, you could very easily veer off in the wrong direction.”
Somehow, they ensure that the dynamic between them never tips over into anything resembling envy. “We’re both very competitive people but bizarrely, not at each other,” Marquand says. “In racing, ours hasn’t really been a shared story until now. But it’s great that we can finally feel the same joy on the same occasion.” With that, they head off in their his-and-hers BMWs for an evening’s racing at Chelmsford. Naturally, they both win again.
The 2020 Flat jockeys’ championship concludes on Saturday 7 November at Doncaster racecourse: greatbritishracing.com