Champions Day turned into Tom and Hollie Day as racing’s most popular young couple proved repeatedly irresistible at the Flat season’s final fling. Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle, boyfriend and girlfriend since their pony racing days eight years ago ago, rode four of the six winners here for a prize money haul of more than £1m, rounding it off in style when he landed the 20-runner Balmoral Handicap that closes the card while she chased him home on the runner-up.
Other jockeys, more familiar with the limelight, struggled for attention. Frankie Dettori, who owns the keys to this place, endured a thoroughly disappointing afternoon which started with so much promise, yet yielded just one third place. Nor did the ball bounce any better for Oisin Murphy or Ryan Moore, who both rode beaten favourites.
All three slunk off into the early dusk while Tom (22) and Hollie (24) faced the cameras, radiating youthful joy. “Genuinely, fairy tale,” was his verdict. “Things are going so well, it’s a bit ridiculous now.”
This was no overstatement. While 2020 has been a dismal year for almost everyone, they have busily built up their careers and gathered admirers. Marquand made a strong start in the spring, raiding a couple of major Australian races on Addeybb, his winning mount in the Champion Stakes here. Both enjoyed success at Royal Ascot and Doyle recently broke her own record for winners in a year by a female jockey.
So thrilled was Marquand in the Champion Stakes aftermath that he was nearly lured into plighting his troth by ITV’s Matt Chapman, who suggested the ideal end to such a day would be a proposal. “It might be on the cards,” the jockey replied, adding hastily: “No, I haven’t got a ring ready yet.”
Doyle, the more natural worrier of the pair, said Marquand had seemed cool and unexpectant in their shared drive to the track from their Hungerford home, but evidently he had enough hope to justify booking a table at a restaurant in the Ascot area. “We’ll go for a bit of dinner and probably sit there smiling for a couple of hours,” he said.
While he won the day’s biggest race and salted away the more prize money, by a margin of £9,000, her achievements were arguably more significant. Racing likes to project itself as the only major sport in which men and women compete on equal terms, but just two runners on this card last year were ridden by women; the glass ceiling has been pushed upwards but, for most, it still exists.
Doyle has taken on from Hayley Turner the good work of showing that women can beat the best men, and she threatened to dominate here when riding the first two winners. Trueshan bounded clear in the Long Distance Cup, looking for all the world as if anyone in the stands could have won on him, but Glen Shiel’s success in the Sprint was perfectly judged as he poked his nose out to snatch the verdict from the splendidly game veteran Brando.
It was a first win in a Group One race for the jockey, who described it as “a dream come true, especially on this horse. Everyone at Archie Watson’s yard adores him”. Any punter with the foresight to pair Doyle’s winners in a double got paid at 203-1.
“We’re both so lucky to be on this wave of success,” Marquand reflected, but it has apparently not translated into actual fame on the street. While his other half was recognised by a taxi driver recently, this was a rare occurrence, he said, adding happily: “We pass as children normally.”
There was a French flavour to the races they didn’t win, The Revenant bagging the QEII for his Chantilly stable while the Champion Fillies & Mares Stakes fell to Wonderful Tonight, trained in Sussex by Frenchman David Menuisier. He was more collected than a fortnight ago, when her success on Arc weekend had him crying for half an hour. A tilt at next year’s Arc is on the cards.
The Dettori/John Gosden team left empty-handed for once. Gosden said Stradivarius had found the ground too testing in the Long Distance, while Palace Pier’s odds-on flop in the QEII was blamed on a shoe that he managed to tear off as he left the stalls. “You can’t win a race with three wheels,” the jockey said.
Mishriff could have redeemed the day for both men in the Champion Stakes but he was fighting his handlers as he went out towards the track and his failure to settle meant his chance sank in the mud.
Chris Cook’s Sunday tips
1.00 Memphis Belle 1.30 Estelle Ma Belle 2.00 Lots Of Luck 2.35 If The Cap Fits 3.10 Main Fact (nb)3.45 Vocaliser 4.20 The Bomber Liston 4.55 Seelotmorebusiness
1.15 Viroflay 1.45 Fairway Freddy 2.22 For Pleasure 2.57 Generous Day (nap) 3.32 Verdana Blue 4.07 Top Decision 4.43 Sunrise Ruby
2.15 Time Voyage 2.50 Lovely Schtuff 3.25 Ming Dynasty 4.00 Jack Yeats 4.33 Bbold 5.10 Rakhine State 5.40 Dargiannini