“I have got very lucky,” says Tom Marquand, one of very few British sportsmen who is able to make a living in these troubled times. The young jockey from Cheltenham positioned himself some weeks ago in Australia, where racing continues behind closed doors, and will have five rides on a very valuable card at Randwick on Saturday.
Marquand isn’t just taking the riding fees and counting himself lucky to have work. He has racked up 25 winners in the New South Wales area this season, including some significant prizes, and has been gathering admirers. One local headline referred to him as “Terrific Tom”, while another, over an article about his effective whip use, cried: “Marquand waves his magic wand and has everyone under his spell again”.
“Obviously it’s been a pretty good trip,” the jockey tells me over the phone, “but more just complete luck as to timing, with everything that’s going on. But it’s pretty bad circumstances for it all to be under.
“From last year, all of the trainers in Sydney have stuck me up on one or two, here or there, and there’ve been particular stables that have really picked me up and helped me, like Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, John O’Shea and David Hayes.”
But it was an English-trained horse that provided Marquand with the highlight of his trip so far, indeed of his career, when William Haggas’s Addeybb won the Ranvet last month. That was a first Group One success for Marquand, who had never ridden the horse before and showed his pace judgement by making almost all the running. Haggas has since described the jockey as “a future champion”.
Marquand and Addeybb will reunite on Saturday for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, another Group One, and the bookies make them 7-2 third-favourites. Marquand has an even better chance on Haggas’s Young Rascal in the Sydney Cup, worth over £300,000 to the winner, for which they head the betting at 11-8.
While his British colleagues are doing their best to keep fit at home, Marquand has managed six Group Three wins and a Listed success in the past couple of months, during which time his mounts have racked up £1.5m in prize money. But how long can it last, with the coronavirus necessitating restrictions everywhere?
“Every time I’ve thought, ‘OK, we’ll probably struggle to get past this weekend,’ they seem to pull it out the bag and carry on racing for another week, and then another. So I don’t quite know where it is and I don’t think anyone does.
“We’re on a lockdown here now. We’ve still got the racing but you’re virtually still in isolation, even when you’re going to the races because they put you in separate jockeys’ rooms and you have to stand the other side of a fence, two metres away from trainers to get instructions. You’re not coming into contact with anyone.”
When Marquand had his 22nd birthday last week, it was, perforce, a “very quiet” occasion. It has not been much noisier at the track, with no spectators present.
“You have to remind yourself of the significance of the day,” he says. “It would easily go unnoticed, the magnitude of the meeting. One Saturday recently, it was a nine-race card, eight of them were Group races and two Group Ones. But it was the same atmosphere of being at Kempton on a rainy Wednesday evening. That’s the reality of it. But as a jockey, you’re trying to win just as much. No one’s forgetting what these races mean to all of us within the industry.”
Travel plans are hard to form just now but Marquand’s hope is to return to Britain after a couple more weekends of racing in Australia. How soon British racing can hope to get going again is a completely open question. But when it does, Marquand is sure to be one of the most in-demand riders, the more so for enjoying such success while his rivals have been becalmed.
Who does he expect to ride for in Britain this year? “Obviously the relationship with William Haggas has been successful. But I was brought into it with Richard Hannon and I still spend a lot of time there when I am around. I’d love to be riding as much as I can for them and William, and many different people.
“I’m very lucky in the fact that I’ve got yards like Tony Carroll, Ali and Sam Stronge and Tom Ward that’ll stick me on a lot of their horses. I’m lucky to have a very wide base of trainers that use me.”