Voyage sparked by stallions in Sardinia and Corsican ponies

Times, October 17 2020

Brough Scott charts the inexorable ride of Tom Marquand and his girlfriend Hollie Doyle to the summit of the sport

It was raining when they got to the riding school. His big sister begged to be excused but the three-year-old boy jumped up and down saying: “Me, me, me.” For the next half an hour his smile lit up the Gloucestershire gloom. Tom Marquand was on his way.

“It was amazing,”says Tom’s father, Richard, of his son’s epiphany. “From then, getting involved with horses was his No 1. Even if it was not always easy for us.” Particularly seven years later as Richard and his wife sat Tom and 12-year-old Amber down and explained that Richard was resigning his job as a director of a chemical engineering firm, had bought a 45ft yacht called Carina of the Wight and, provided the children agreed, wouldtake the family off for the next two years sailing around the Mediterranean.

“I said I would do it, provided I could ride at every place we stopped,”Tom says. “And I did everywhere bar Morocco. I rode a Shetland pony in Corsica, an Arab stallion up in the mountains in Sardinia and a huge big horse on the sands near Almeria. The guy just said, ‘OK, help yourself,’ and let me gallop this great thing off into the distance.”

It helped that in Neil Hall the kids had a headmaster at Winchcombe School who not only encouraged the venture — Tom came back with the reading age of a 16-year-old — but was enough of a racing fan to excuse his pupil’s absences during the Cheltenham Festival. By then competitive riding had entered the picture and looking back it was in the genes, for Richard Marquand had been a racer until he embraced his wife’s sailing hobby. But his racing had been on four wheels, saloon cars at the likes of Brands Hatch and rally driving at National Championship level. Horses scared him but he would understand.

“Actually the pony racing was the making of Tom,”Richard says. “Because when he began at around 13 he was getting a bit ‘arsey’ and we were not too sure about him. Then, after one of his early rides at Andoversford he came up to me with a big smile on his face and said, ‘This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ And, do you know, he has been as good as gold ever since.”

Someone else was coming into his orbit. His first race was on a pony called Sporty, standing at just over 12 hands, who got stuck in the mud at Chaddesley Corbett. The winner was ridden by a diminutive energy ball called Hollie Doyle. A year later Richard Perham caught them stealing their first kiss behind the theatre at the British Racing School where Perham is the senior jockey coach. What has become the most successful jockey partnership in British racing history had begun.

Doyle — who is 5ft and 8st, six inches shorter and almost a stone lighter than her boyfriend — took longer to break through and did not have more than three winners in a season until 2016, a year after Tom became champion apprentice. However, since joining Tom at Richard Hannon’s stable and now sharing a house with him near Hungerford, Doyle, 24, has transformed herself into one of the most powerful jockeys of any size. Time is long past when pilots could get away with the maxim: “It’s only race riding that gets you fit for racing.” Tom shakes his head in admiration. “You would never believe the work Hollie has done to put on weight and muscle in the last two years,” he said. Tom, 22, himself had already won plenty of plaudits.

“He was the first person to register 100 per cent in our fitness test,”Perham, a former jockey himself, said. “But more importantly he was also everything you would want to see in a young rider. During that apprentice course he was everything I would want to see in a young rider and remains the most naturally measured and humble person. If I say to him, ‘You are going to be champion,’ he replies, ‘I just hope it can last.’ ”
The man himself is not shy of that ambition. “I would be extremely disappointed if I had not managed a championship by the time this is all over,” Tom said. “But the approach from jockeys has just flipped in the last few years and it is essential to take care of yourself. Hollie and I worked really hard in the gym and on our bikes during lockdown and I am sure it helped. Ryan Moore with his shirt off could be mistaken for a boxer. He is an absolute legend. They say you should never meet your heroes but the more time I spend with Ryan the more I respect him.”

Tom’s key ally in the past two seasons has been the Newmarket trainer William Haggas, for whom he rides the six-year-old Addeybb in today’s Champion Stakes, having won two valuable prizes on the chestnut in Sydney this spring. “William is a great believer in confidence,” says Marquand about the man he rides for without formal contracts. “In the week running up to the St Leger everything was going wrong, lots of seconds and thirds and then in the race before the big one, I got short-headed by Frankie [Dettori] on William’s One Master. He could have made a difficult situation much , much worse but he said, ‘Your riding’s fine, your confidence is OK. It will all turn.’ And then in the Leger it did.”

The timing and low compulsive drive with which Marquand powered Galileo Chrome through to his own first classic glory made one think very seriously as to where we are headed. For in more than 50 years of logging the exploits of Britain’s jockey colony, seven figures stand out: Piggott, Carson, Eddery, Cauthen, Fallon, Dettori and Moore. It’s still very early days for the wonderfully talented and superbly grounded young man from Winchcombe. But if he holds it together there is every chance that he can join that number. It pays to smile on a rainy day.

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