Fate can be a fickle lady.
On Friday morning Shane Crosse, Ireland’s 18-year-old shooting star apprentice was happy, healthy and looking forward to riding Joseph O’Brien’s Galileo Chrome in the St Leger. But the necessary Covid test came up positive, Crosse was sent into isolation and it was 22-year-old Tom Marquand who stepped in to drive home the three-year-old at Doncaster.Crosse’s talent and connections will give him other days but the way Marquand took this opportunity underlines that he is the home-grown star British flat racing has been looking for.
It also put Joseph O’Brien into the extremely select band of St Leger-winning jockeys to have also won the race as a trainer while avenging the darkest day of his brief but brilliant riding career. For it was on this day that Joseph and Camelot missed the chance of landing the Triple Crown when outsmarted by Encke in the 2012 St Leger.
Cheltenham-born Marquand was raised at Newmarket’s British Racing School, rode a single winner in 2014, was champion apprentice in 2016, and rode 136 winners here last season. After a highly successful stint in Australia during the winter he is still a contender for this term’s truncated championship.He is willowy with an elegant, orthodox style, a calm and sunny temperament, a maturing tactical brain and a brutal fitness regime honed in home competition with his girlfriend, Hollie Doyle, who rode her own 100th winner of the season this week.
Galileo Chrome may have been a last-minute ride but this was no casual victory. The colt is a powerful son of the young sire, Australia, on whom Joseph O’Brien won the 2014 Derby and while his three Irish victories this season had been on an upward trajectory they were way short of Classic company.
With the St Leger field stretched out and Subjectivist and Mythical setting a tough gallop, this was very much going to be Galileo Chrome’s day of reckoning. Marquand had him in 6th place just behind Hukum, the favourite, while the rags to riches horse Pyledriver was on the inside with Frankie Dettori on Santiago a touch further back. As they swung into the long, long Doncaster straight the whole field pulled out into the centre which meant a few, most notably Pyledriver, found themselves committed too soon.
Galileo Chrome’s lack of acceleration probably played in his favour because Marquand was having to drive him hard in pursuit as Berkshire Rocco and Santiago attacked Hukum with Pyledriver on their inside. Earlier in the afternoon, Marquand had been inched out by Frankie Dettori but this time there would be no denying him.
With mind and body he hurled Galileo Chrome past Berkshire Rocco to land this St Leger by a neck with stamina sapped Pyledriver a length away third and Santiago only a head further back.
“It’s a dream come true,” Marquand said afterwards before acknowledging his good fortune.
“I genuinely feel terrible for Shane. Racing’s a great leveller. To pick up a spare ride like this in a British Classic for Joseph O’Brien of all people is incredible.
“Galileo Chrome was so tough. He showed a decent turn of foot to pick up through the gaps and to finish the job off through the last furlong. He is exceptionally talented.”
It was a race that showed racing at its best for those watching at home but the nasty twists of the pandemic meant that all the track’s efforts to host a crowd had to be cancelled despite a highly successful first pilot event on Wednesday, which was attended by about 3,600 spectators. The St Leger should have taken place in front of a crowd but the rising Covid-19 rate and the government’s intervention this week put paid to that.
Racing, like so many activities is in the direst of straits. If Marquand had looked up as he came back on what is likely to be the first of many classic winners, he would have seen the trade name Lazarus emblazoned on the grandstand front.
It is a Lazarus-type miracle that we will need soon.