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WHILE COVID-19 ravaged 2020 might be considered one of the worst years in the collective consciousness of mankind, it did have a silver lining for Tom Marquand. It is the year the 22yo will never forget as it unravelled with a massive silver lining and turned out to be a breakthrough year for both him and girlfriend Hollie Doyle. Chance might have played its part in turning 2020 into a brilliant year for Marquand, who has clearly enjoyed his most stellar year in the saddle in terms of success at the highest level with four Group One wins gained despite a raging pandemic.

And he acknowledges the fact had he not made it in time seeking an entry into Australia, he would have been denied a couple of those top tier wins that were achieved with William Haggas’ exceptional Addeybb who contributed thrice to that tally in the colours of Sheikh Ahmed. The pair won the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill in March and followed up on that victory by clinching the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in April before returning to England to win the Group 1 British Champions Stakes at Ascot in October.

“Honestly, I was very lucky because I was there in time, just two days before they said they were to stop taking in any non-residents. So, that was a stroke of luck, but for whatever reason everything seems to have clicked. The owners and trainers there were brilliant in supporting me and I’m looking to get back,” Marquand told Al Adiyat, having just returned from riding Mouheeb to victory in a maiden run that opened last Friday’s card at Jebel Ali Racecourse. It was another success in the colours of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Jebel Ali Racecourse patron, who also owns Addeybb.

But no sooner was he done with his four rides up the hill, than he was driven straight to the airport to board a flight back to the UK to ride at Lingfield the next day. Since the world has shrunk with travel times being cut shorter to hours from days, jet setting seems the in thing for some of the top riders around the world. And Marquand dwells very much on that high street.

The Hungerford-based rider is due to travel back to Australia, where he built up quite a following due to his success in the saddle and came to be fondly called ‘Aussie Tom’, again at some point early next year, which means he could give top notch meetings in the Middle East like the Saudi Cup and the Dubai World Cup a miss, swapping them for big race days ‘Down Under’. And while he found a solid travelling companion in Addeybb, he is bound to miss having girlfriend Doyle around. Doyle, who has been breaking new ground for women in Britain, is reportedly one of the female riders scheduled to ride at Riyadh during the 2021 Saudi Cup programme.

Marquand can only hope she can carry the momentum gained this year into 2021. “It’s a massive weekend of racing and everyone wants to be there, but sadly I won’t be able to be there as I have to be in Australia,” Marquand added. “If I rode in Saudi I’d have to do two weeks quarantine and that puts me in a time frame after William Haggas’ first runner, so I think I will miss the Saudi Cup. Hollie can go and hopefully she can pick a few good rides because it’s a big day.” Marquand and Doyle are the toast of Britain’s riding elite: its first couple.

Both left a massive impression on British Champions Day at Ascot in October with doubles on the card, which included Doyle’s first career Group One success with Glen Shiel in the Sprint Stakes and Marquand’s Champion Stakes win with Addeybb. Going by what one half has to say of the other, the pair are definitely the wind in the other’s sails, with Marquand complimenting and complementing his other half without holding back. It helps that the pair were brought up in the industry and have known each other since their pony racing days.

“We are both lucky to be in the positions we are and we’ve obviously been together for a very long time and I guess to us it feels quite normal but to everyone else I guess it’s not,” Marquand said. “Her success has been incredible in the last two years and it’s unbelievable for her to have won her first Group One (British Champions Sprint Stakes). I think she’s on 148 or 149 winners right now and these are statistics that have never been achieved by a woman in racing. “She doesn’t want to be remembered as a woman in British racing; she wants to be remembered as a jockey and it’s just incredible.” Hardworking, determined, affable and grounded, Marquand is all of those things and more and one of those that simply keeps getting better with each passing year.

When not riding at Jebel Ali, he spent time making mental notes by watching the UAE regulars attack the hill. He would have learned strategies that will perhaps help the next time he approaches the stiff uphill finish. For now, he is back home, where his career surpassed another milestone this year when he topped his best annual tally of winners in Britain. It has become a sort of annual chore for Marquand to surpass himself year after year. His count for the year stands at 145, the third highest after Ben Curtis (170) and partner Doyle (148), while the British Flat Jockeys’ Championship saw him place third with 114 behind winner Oisin Murphy (142) and William Buick (134).

On this list, Doyle was fourth with 94. Marquand acknowledges there were many things going for him during the year, including Haggas’ Addeybb and the Joseph O’Brien-schooled Galileo Chrome, who brought him his first British Classic success in the form of the St Leger at Doncaster. A twist of fate landed Marquand the Galileo Chrome ride in the St Leger as he was called in to replace regular jockey Shane Crosse, who was forced to give up his seat after returning a positive Covid-19 test. Looking back at the season, Marquand is filled with a sense of gratitude.

“Addeybb was exceptional in Australia and it was good for him to go back to England and win his first Group One there because he’s deserved it for a couple of years now and that’s what Sheikh Ahmed wants,” he said. “He wants Group One winners and to be able to reward his loyalty for keeping me aboard his horses is great. I think you know there were a lot of winners that stood out like obviously the first Classic and things like that, but Addeybb on Champions Day was probably the pinnacle of the year for me. “I’ve been very lucky because I have a very wide spread of trainers that use me, but this season it’s been a pretty strong relationship with William and his team at Somerville Lodge.

The yard has gone from strength to strength and has ended up with four Group One winners. It’s been an exceptional year and I’m very honoured to be riding that standard of horse for him because they’re hard to get on.” Marquand has laboured hard to get to where he is at the moment and spends hours each day travelling across England to honour riding commitments. They say boxing is a tough sport and entails a lot of sacrifice, but to punch among the heavyweights in racing jockeys too must undergo daily battles of their own. With a dash of luck, the reward makes the effort worth it.

Marquand explains: “Riding is always something that I wanted to do and something that I’ve worked for, but then a lot of people work for a lot of things and don’t get what they want so I can count myself very lucky because everything has fallen into place right where I wanted. “At the same time it takes plenty of time and effort to go and do these things so I appreciate it and think I am very fortunate that it has all come together so well in recent months.

The last couple of years it’s been pretty nice.” Marquand is no stranger to the Emirates and spent six weeks here during the 2017/18 season with Gopi Selvaratnam, who was provisionally in charge of training Sheikh Ahmed’s horses at Jebel Ali. He scored twice during that time, winning his first UAE race aboard War Spirit, who landed a 1000m sprint at Sharjah. “I came here in 2017 and that was when I worked for Sheikh Ahmed for the first time.

I was here for six weeks and it was a great experience. It was a kind of light period, but I really enjoyed it and it was obviously my first association with Sheikh Ahmed so it’s proved a nice connection for the future,” Marquand said. “Everyone else comes to Dubai to ride because you have some of the top trainers, jockeys and horses here. It’s a great opportunity and while I don’t come as often as I’d have liked to, I’m always pleased to come over.”

While virtually all that he’s touched has somehow turned to gold, Marquand does have a wishlist he’d like to tick off. “Realistically, you look at Dubai and you think the Dubai World Cup, you look at France and you think the Arc, you look at America and you think any of the Breeders’ Cup races.

There’s a long list of races and places where I’d like to go and ride winners in so it might take a while, but hopefully I’ll tick a few off,” he said. When he left Dubai, Marquand had Lingfield lingering on his mind. He bit into the action there the following day, finishing off with victory aboard Al Zaraqaan who was trained by Haggas for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. It was another commitment kept with distinction.