Sunday Times, October 18 2020
It was at the 2016 Rio Olympics that Jason Kenny and Laura Trott’s five cycling golds set new standards for sporting power couples, but the way Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle rode four of the six winners at Ascot’s Champions Day suggests anything is possible.
Little Doyle, a pocket dynamo who put on a stone in muscle over the past two winters, won the opening two races, including a first group one success with a photo-finish victory in the Champions Sprint on Glen Shiel. Twenty-two-year-old Marquand, six inches taller but an equally devoted gym bunny, won the Qipco Champion Stakes aboard the admirable Addeybb and then closed out the day with a driving victory on the Irish-trained Njord with — guess who — Doyle in battling but uncomplaining second place.
Nine years ago Frankel was starring on the first running of Champions Day. That same year Marquand rode a pony called Sporty, standing at just over 12 hands, on a boggy afternoon in his first ever race at Chaddesley Corbett. The winner was ridden by someone with whom he and we have now become very familiar. Frankel did wonders for the first two Champions Days. Tom and Hollie have it in their power to bring new fans just when support is most needed.
“I think you call it halfway house, rather than a score draw,”Marquand said as Niord was led back afterwards. “More deserved by her [Hollie] because I’m lucky, I’ve had my fair share this season. But for both of us to have two winners on the day, on Champions Day, what a way to cap off the most phenomenal year for the two of us.
“Genuinely we are so lucky to be with each other and to have had each other for the last few years. How could you write it? We were 14 when we first started seeing each other, that we would be where we are now seven, eight years later.”
The “power couple” — and they laugh in happy dismissal of the phrase — quite rightly draw the spotlight, but their success depends on the horses and in Marquand’s case, very specifically on Champion Stakes winner Addeybb and his trainer William Haggas. The launchpad to this stellar season came from two group one victories on Addeybb down in Sydney this spring and any conversation with Marquand soon returns to how much he depends on the support and wise counsel of the trainer with whom he has been increasingly associated — without any official contact — over the past two seasons.
It is no surprise to find the effect of Haggas and his family extending beyond Marquand as a rider. Glen Shiel’s victory in the Champions Sprint was the biggest training success yet for the former Haggas assistant Archie Watson, and Maureen Haggas, William’s wife, was a top event rider in her day and the daughter of the not entirely uninfluential Lester Keith Piggott.
The Haggas trademark is to make things look and sound uncomplicated and Addeybb followed the pattern to the letter, following Derby winner Serpentine into the straight and seeing off the French challenger Skalleti by a good two lengths, with the favourite Magical another half length away in third. Frankie Dettori and the French Derby winner Mishriff faded out of things to finish eighth of ten runners and it was one of those days when the Italian’s wand proved devoid of the magic with which he has lit up Ascot over the years.
It had begun with the worst possible start when Stradivarius completely failed to fire behind Doyle and Trueshan in the first race and tailed off in obvious recognition that he had not recovered from his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe disappointments two weeks ago.
It had been hoped that the hitherto unbeaten Palace Pier would continue his winning ways in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes but he could only finish a gallant but four-length third to the gutsy French horse The Revenant, with the outsider Roseman in between them. It transpired that Palace Pier had lost a shoe, leading Dettori to comment ruefully: “Obviously, you can’t win a race with three wheels, you need all four.”
Dettori has already given the game more great days than anyone else who slings a leg across a saddle, but this day belonged to the disarmingly happy young couple for whom the future is full of the promise and threat of stardust. “I booked a table last night up the road,” Marquand said as to how he and Doyle will celebrate, “so we will go for a bit of dinner and probably sit there smiling for a couple of hours.”
There will never have been a better time for all of us to smile with them.