Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle have been spurring on each other ever since they raced ponies in their early teens.
And the childhood sweethearts continue to race each other as they compete for the title of Champion Jockey, Marquand is second behind Oisin Murphy and Doyle sixth in the 2020 Flat Jockey Championship which concludes on the final day of the flat season on November 7 at Doncaster.
Both have form. Doyle, 23, had a maiden win at Royal Ascot in the Duke of Edinburgh this year and followed up with the biggest success of her career by riding Dame Malliot to victory in the Group Two Princess Of Wales at Newmarket.
Hollie Doyle, 23, (above) was the leading female jockey with 116 winners last year
At Lingfield last week, she had her first winner for John Gosden in the silks of new retainer Imad Al Sagar.
Marquand, who is a year younger, enjoyed a winter in Australia, where racing continued behind closed doors.
Despite getting kicked and chipping the top of his fibula, which left him struggling to walk, he had 10 big wins in two months including two Group One victories.
Back home he rode a blinder in the Derby, finishing second on 50-1 Khalifa Sat.
Tom Marquand is second behind Oisin Murphy in the 2020 Flat Jockey Championship
And emulating his girlfriend, he had his first Royal Ascot winner in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
‘We egg each other on without even noticing it,’ says Doyle.
‘When Tom rode his Group One winner in Australia, I was screaming and crying and was so happy for him. But I was also thinking I want to do that. It’s not a jealousy thing, it just makes us both more hungry.’
Marquand says: ‘When you go to the British Racing School, they grill you that your chances of becoming a jockey are so low. They want to prepare you for how tough it will be as a jockey. The percentage of lads who ride out their claim to get a licence is three or four per cent and the percentage of girls is 0.9. We have been together since we were 14 and the odds of us making it to over 100 winners in a year is crazy. It makes me think it must be something to do with the environment we have put ourselves in together.’
Doyle, 23, had a maiden win at Royal Ascot in the Duke of Edinburgh this year
When Marquand returned from Australia in May, the pair spent time improving their fitness, turning their garage into a home gym and buying road bikes. ‘I didn’t enjoy cycling so it was good that I had Tom to push me because it’s been so good for my riding doing the cardio,’ says Doyle.
‘When we came back to racing, you could tell in the weighing room which jockeys didn’t do much and the ones that did.’
‘It’s full on,’ says Doyle. ‘There is not even a day to recover. It’s lucky that we are both so fit. Those jockeys who aren’t must be dying.’
The 2020 Flat Jockey Championship concludes on November 7 at Doncaster
Doyle comes from racing stock. Her father Mark was a jockey-turned-trainer and horse transporter and her mother raced Arab horses. Marquand has no racing pedigree but grew up in Cheltenham.
‘Living near the Festival got me into racing and I would bunk off school for the whole week to go and watch. When I got to know Hollie, she would come too. At that stage we both wanted to be jump jockeys. I didn’t know much about racing then but I loved pony racing from a young age. Dad used to be a rally driver so I think I got the love of speed and adrenaline from him,’ he says. Marquand’s bid for the Champion Jockey title has been helped by courses staging more races at fixtures since the lockdown.
‘Normally winning Champion Jockey relies on having the connections to fly you to meetings or have a driver so that you can cram as many fixtures in a day as possible,’ he says.
‘Now you go to a race for nine rides and can ride three winners. It’s changed the dynamics and opened the field up a bit more as everyone has the same opportunities. My strike rate has been higher than ever, so it could happen.’
Jockey Tom Marquand (above) had his first Royal Ascot winner in the Queen Alexandra Stakes
Doyle, who was the leading female jockey with 116 winners last year, does not think opportunities are more limited for women. ‘It’s about being good enough,’ she says.
‘It’s just as hard for the lads. The statistics are there to prove we can do it if you are good enough. I’ve ridden for all the sheikhs now and that goes to show that racing doesn’t care.’
Marquand says: ‘Hollie doesn’t stick out as a female rider, she sticks out because she looks strong on a horse. Not many women look like that, but not many lads do either. Hollie, Cathy Gannon, Hayley Turner: they are respected by the lads because they ride very well and are competitive. No one cares in the weighing room whether you are a girl or a boy.’
The couple continue their challenge for the Champion Jockey crown at the Ebor Festival in York this week. Marquand has three rides booked for Wednesday on Aplomb, Roberto Escobarr and Dancing Inthestreet and Doyle two rides on Leodis Dr e am and Electric Ladyland.
The Festival is from Wednesday until Saturday and will be broadcast on ITV racing each day.