They might be making history as the first husband and wife to ride against each other in a British Classic, but Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle insist they “won’t give each other an inch” when they go head to head in tomorrow’s (Friday) Cazoo Oaks.
The childhood sweethearts have been riding against each other since their pony racing days and tied the knot in Hertfordshire in March this year, before jetting off to compete at the Dubai World Cup just a few days later.
And while they encounter each other in the workplace on a daily basis, they are set to make history tomorrow afternoon by clashing in one of the most prestigious Flat races in the world, the second fillies’ Classic of the season over a mile and a half.
Marquand, 24, is due to partner Irish challenger Tranquil Lady for Joseph O’Brien, who is a 14-1 chance. Meanwhile 25 year old Doyle will take her chance on the highly-fancied second favourite Nashwa, currently trading at around 4-1.
When asked earlier this week about lining up against her husband, Doyle was clear that she treats him like any other jockey in the weighing room once the starting stalls open.
She said: “Tom might be my husband but when we’re in the race it’s very competitive and we don’t give each other an inch really – we both want to win.
“I don’t notice much difference between being in a close finish with Tom and in being in one with anybody else to be honest. I suppose from the outside looking in it’s quite weird and unique but we’re so used to it now that it’s not really a thing!
“It would be something to be fighting out the finish in an Oaks with him – but all I’d be hoping is that I come out on top!
“I suppose as we’re both at Epsom we’ll probably go down together, but on a day-to-day basis we won’t see a lot of each other really as we’ll be at opposite sides of the country and it’s pretty relentless. We’ll be both there then so we’ll probably head down together.
“There’s probably a bit more banter and chat from my side of things, I think Tom is probably sick of hearing the word Nashwa over the last three or four weeks!”
Meanwhile Marquand insists facing his wife on such a stage will have little impact on his own mindset.
He explained: “To be honest it’s no different from riding against anyone else! We ride against each other pretty much every day and we always have done since we were pony racing so it doesn’t really make too much difference to me – whether it’s in a Group One or a Class Six race.
“When you live and breathe it you’re obviously talking about it and Hollie has got a good chance on Nashwa and I’ve got a good chance myself. It is what it is and that’s racing so it’s just the same as every other day – for all that there’s a little bit more excitement around the big race.”
The prices may suggest that it is Doyle who has the better chance at Epsom Downs tomorrow but Marquand has every reason to be optimistic, considering that it was O’Brien who provided him with his sole Classic winner to date, when the pair teamed up to win the 2020 St Leger at Doncaster with Galileo Chrome.
And while he has yet to sit on Tranquil Lady himself, he feels there is plenty to like about his charge, who impressed when a convincing winner of a Group Three contest at Naas last month.
He continued: “I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve picked up a good ride and she looked pretty dominant in Ireland when she won last time. She looks like she’s going to stay well off what she’s been doing so far and Joseph always sends promising ones to England so hopefully she’s one who holds one of the big cards on Friday.
“We got a nice bit of luck together in the St Leger a couple of years ago and hopefully that continues.
“I’ve not sat on her, I went over to Ireland the other week but it was an in and out job which means I didn’t get a chance to see her but she looks pretty straightforward and I can’t imagine there’s too many quirks to work out.
“Winning the St Leger was massive. It was all a last second thing and it’s the sort of thing you dream of. To have another opportunity to try and do it again on Friday and Saturday is fantastic, every year you want to have a ride in the Derby and the Oaks so it’s pretty exciting.”
Both Doyle and Marquand are open about the realities of their relationship as professional athletes and the pair rarely see each other during the height of the Flat season, due to regularly being at opposite sides of the country.
And while they will be at the same meetings for the next few days, Marquand explained that work commitments can still keep them apart. He said: “Even if we’re at the same meetings it doesn’t quite work out like that and we don’t really see each other too much at this time of year.
“We both enjoy being busy and enjoy riding every day and it’s all significant as without the everyday stuff you don’t get the big days. It has its place but the reality is you’re going to places like Kempton, Chelmsford and Chepstow on a daily basis and it’s only every few weeks that you get the big meetings.”
Meanwhile victory in one of the five British Classics is one of the few barriers not yet broken by a female rider, but Doyle is taking inspiration from Rachael Blackmore, whose success in the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National over the past two seasons has transcended racing.
Doyle, who finished ninth on Sherbet Lemon in the 2021 Cazoo Oaks, said: “It would be incredible if I could win the Oaks. Look at the reaction there was when Rachael (Blackmore) won the Grand National. It’s one of the toughest races in the world to win and she did that so if I could win it would be a dream come true for me personally but I suppose it could hopefully inspire other women to get into the sport.
“It would just be an absolute dream come true, you’re always looking to progress through your career and it would be another box ticked. “I recognise things like that and Rachael Blackmore winning the Grand National was amazing. Winning a British Classic would be something that I’d dream of doing over the next 10 years or so and if it can happen on Friday that would be great.”