Cornelius Lysaght was at QIPCO British Champions Day and he hails the talents of Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand after they dominated proceedings.
Racing has something of a hang-up about its image in relation to female participants.
But although it was unquestionably justified in the dark days of a male-dominated sport that didn’t officially allow women to be trainers until 1966, or to hold jockeys’ licences until 1972, things have changed out of all recognition since.
This has happened via names that have become some of the sport’s highest profile characters – Jenny Pitman, Gee Armytage, Henrietta Knight, Hayley Turner, Bryony Frost, Lucinda Russell. And Hollie Doyle.
Once again, the 24-year-old stole the show on Saturday, this time on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot – narrowly from, ironically, her jockey-boyfriend Tom Marquand, who knows all about making headlines himself – with a sparkling 203/1 double on Trueshan, runaway winner of the Group Two Long Distance Cup, and Glen Shiel, a 16/1 winner of a breathless renewal of the Sprint.
For good measure there were also second places on Dame Maillot in the Fillies’ and Mares’ race and on Solid Stone in the Balmoral Handicap, in which she chased home her partner on Njord, the 15/2 winner.
For his part, Marquand took the day’s centrepiece, the QIPCO Champion Stakes, on his old William Haggas-trained ally Addeybb (9/1), the 2019 runner-up, who relished the rain-softened going. A magnificent afternoon, winning prize-money of just over £1m, of which their share will amount to about £75,000, to crown an outstanding week.
In the build-up to British racing’s richest single day, Doyle had broken her own record for most wins in a calendar year by a female jockey, which had stood at 116, passing the mark with two and a half months to spare despite the Covid-interrupted season.
She’d also featured in a much-coveted, prominent position on the BBC's six o’clock news. Earlier in 2020, there was a first visit to the Royal Ascot winners’ circle and on the August Bank Holiday a memorable fixture at Windsor when rivals were comprehensively outwitted in five races on the card by a heady combination of strength, judgement and cunning.
While it’s understandable that Doyle’s gender is constantly mentioned, this is actually a young athlete climbing the greasy pole with impressive alacrity and that person’s sex doesn’t honestly matter.
Marquand, meanwhile, after a lucrative spell in Australia, landing two major races in Sydney on Addeybb, has confirmed his position amongst British flat racing’s most upwardly mobile young riders.
It’s very likely that anyone, male or female, with that amount of talent could be a champion. The big question might end up being whether it’s Marquand or Doyle who does it first.
As fellow jockey William Buick put it after his own big-race success on Wonderful Tonight, beating Doyle aboard Dame Maillot: “Hollie’s improved a lot and she’s a top rider. It’s Champions Day, one of the biggest days of the season, so fair play to her.”
Such talk clearly embarrasses the quietly spoken, reserved Doyle.
She said: “I don’t get too carried away, I’m a bit delusional about what’s going on at the moment, it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind.
“It [two British Champions Day winners] feels really unusual especially for someone like me – it just doesn’t happen, but it has done today.
“My aim for the year was to ride a Group winner, and I always said a Group One would come one day, but I didn’t think it would come just yet.”
Of course Doyle received all the attention but her results were also notable for trainers Archie Watson (Glen Shiel - his first Group One prize as well) and for Alan King.
His success with Trueshan in the Long Distance Cup capped another stellar success on the Flat at Ascot after three victories and a runners-up spot at Royal Ascot.
Recently I asked King, a licence holder since 1999 having emerged from a jumping background as long-time assistant to steeplechasing legend David Nicholson, whether he had a National Hunt/Flat identity crisis.
He answered that he was happy to have any horse if it could win, at Ascot or indeed at the Cheltenham Festival, where he’s won 15 races.
Most bookmakers were envisaging a bumper day for John Gosden, Frankie Dettori and Clarehaven team but bets placed on a variety of ‘specials’ ended up as losers.
Stradivarius, 11/10 favourite for the Long Distance Cup just 13 days after finishing seventh in the Arc, was described as not having enjoyed the “deep” ground when beating only one home, while Palace Pier, odds-on and third behind The Revenant in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, lost a shoe early on in the race.
It wasn't their day - this one belonged to Doyle and Marquand.