By Jon Lees
Australia: Young star Tom Marquand’s highly successful stint in Australia during Britain’s winter months is set for a high-profile climax with an unexpected opportunity to ride in the world’s richest two-year-old race.
The former champion apprentice will bid to become the first British jockey to win the Golden Slipper at Rosehill Gardens next month when he will fly back to Sydney from Britain to ride either Magic Millions winner Away Game or Prague in the A$3.5 million (£1.8m) contest.
Marquand, 21, partnered both two-year-olds to victory for a memorable Group 3 double at Randwick on February 1 which provided the highlight of his six-week period in New South Wales.
The rider returned to Australia for the second time this winter hoping a change of scene would help recharge his batteries ahead of a busy 2020 turf campaign in Britain.
But he has found himself heavily in demand among Sydney’s leading stables, riding 16 winners altogether, among them Away Game and Prague in the Widden Stakes and Canonbury Stakes respectively.
Now both juveniles, who are trained in partnership by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, are leading contenders for the Golden Slipper – and Marquand will ride one of them in the showpiece event on March 21.
“I’ve been handed some pretty unreal opportunities,” said Marquand. “It’s a huge tick in the box to have got to point where I am even in the position to be able to contemplate coming back for Group 1 rides.
“Australian sprinters are renowned as some of the world’s best and Away Game and Prague won extremely impressively. I was pretty happy to ride two two-year-olds like that and I would be pretty happy whichever one I ended up on.”
‘I hoped to learn a bit’
Marquand rode a career-best 136 winners in Britain last year before taking up an offer from John O’Shea, with whom he had spent time the previous winter.
“I came last year to John and I hoped to learn a bit,” said the jockey, who returns to Britain after riding at Randwick this weekend. “It was a different way to spend a winter and I could come back fresh, having improved a bit, instead of riding around as normal.
“I think I had nine winners and a few in the city,” he went on. “I really enjoyed it and thought I had laid out the basis of what could be used to even better potential if I came back again but this year has been unreal with 16 winners and for them to have been in the grade they have has been a surprise.
“Having 16 winners surprised me but more so the fact that 13 of them have been in the city, which has been the biggest bonus of all because I have not had to hunt around the small tracks for rides.”
Tipped for the top as soon as he graduated from the British Racing School, Marquand was duly crowned Britain’s champion apprentice in his first full season in 2015. Since then he has ridden four G3 winners in Europe, gaining his two most valuable wins last year in the Northumberland Plate on Who Dares Wins and the All-Weather Mile Championship on Oh This Is Us.
However, he reckons his G3 double in Sydney topped anything else he has achieved. “Without a shadow of a doubt it has,” he said. “I’ve only been here four months altogether between last year and this year so to come across the chance to do something like that is pretty amazing really.
‘I would struggle to get rides of that quality at home’
“The rides for Ciaron and David were not expected as I’d not ridden for them too many times before for them but they were looking for a jockey at Randwick and they were two great rides. I would struggle to get rides of that quality at home on a regular basis, if at all. To be able to get those out here is incredible.”
The Golden Slipper has a first prize of A$2m. Britain’s champion jockey Oisin Murphy finished fourth last year on a Maher and Eustace runner behind a Godolphin 1-2-3, while Ryan Moore and William Buick were down the field when they were involved in 2017.
Marquand has found riding in Sydney a less exacting schedule than Britain. “There is quite a big segregation between city, provincial and country tracks among trainers, jockeys and the horses,” he explained. “Essentially you ride three or four days a week. They seem to have found a good balance which helps you to turn up at the races fresh, whereas in England we are big on quantity and you can ride seven days a week for the whole year round if you really want to.
“In that regard they have got it right – but then they have the prize-money to be able to support doing that. I ride out less but on days when I am not riding I ride in the trial mornings, when there could be 15-20 trials and you can be involved in nearly all of them, maybe once or twice a week.”
Despite enjoying his winter in Australia, however, Marquand cannot see himself giving up Britain on a more permanent basis. “I thought I would come and learn a bit and I can’t quite believe the success it has led to but moving to Australia is not something I view as a career option at the moment.” he said.
“I see my foreseeable future in England but that’s not to say I am not already thinking about what I am going to do next winter. Hopefully I can integrate it so they can work alongside each other.”
Hannon and Haggas the main supply lines
In 2019 Marquand rode 21 winners for Richard Hannon, with whom he started as an apprentice, and also struck up a rewarding association with William Hagges yielding 24 victories including a G3 and three Listed successes for the trainer between the end of October and December.
“I was riding a lot more for William Haggas at the end of last season which ended up being a great link-up,” he said. “It will be very much the same set-up. I am coming into the season not knowing what direction the season will take but I hope it’s the right one.”
Although Marquand finished fourth in the Flat jockeys’ championship, his tally of 90 wins in the season ‘proper’ was 78 behind Murphy. “With the progression from two years to last year it surprised me how steep the incline was in the quality and amount of winners that came,” he said. “But I am a hell of a long way off where I would need to be if I was to be champion jockey.
“I will be trying to ride as many winners as I can and hopefully that puts me in a position where the championship is something I can compete for, or even achieve.”