After a year of sport (and society in general!) that is better best forgotten, it’s a relief that once again the little things we took all too readily for granted – such as attending live sports – are now back on the agenda, with racing being well in the mix. Even casual sports fans are aware of the big UK races, which surely speaks to the audience that horse racing is able to reach. I’d wager that those with only a passing interest in racing would have an awareness of these big three:

The Grand National

Who can deny that the Grand National (10th April 2021) is the jewel in the crown, or not only UK racing, but the worldwide racing scene. Steeped in centuries of history and with television audiences into the hundreds of millions, the Grand National attracts top tier competitors from far and wide and a win in this most prestigious of races is not only financially lucrative but also a career maker. The equivalent of having your name, whether jockey, horse or trainer, into the history books. It was a crying shame that in 2020 we had to make do with the sorry spectacle that is the Virtual Grand National, though in this online age it’s at least possible at the click of a mouse button to watch some of the legends of the Grand National such as West Tip and Tiger Roll.

Cheltenham Festival

The crowds Cheltenham Roar signals the start of the Cheltenham Festival and interestingly enough that was the last significant crowd participation moment before the 2020 Covid lockdown came to be. The Cheltenham Festival (16th – 19th March 2021) offers a lot of bang for your racing buck in that it gives racing fans the chance to watch four days of top quality racing action, featuring Group One races we all know and love such as the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and of course the Cheltenham Gold Cup, one of the most respected National Hunt races in the country with a purse of £625,000.  Golden Miller, Arkle, Kauto Star, Al Boum Photo, are all household names either in part or largely due to their Cheltenham Gold Cup successes. The Festival also brings us Ladies Day. There’s something for everyone!

Royal Ascot

Last but not least on our list of races / festivals that we all know and love comes Royal Ascot. Again a festival that goes back hundreds of years (to 1768, or 1807 if we’re to include the Gold Cup format), this five day event which has the royal stamp of approval (and even starts with a Royal Procession by the Royal Family) is Britain’s most valuable race meeting, with prize money not far short of £8,000,000. 18 group  races feature, 8 of which are group one races. As you can imagine many dress to impress at such an event and that adds to the appeal of the whole spectacle. Highly anticipated races at Royal Ascot include the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday, Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, Gold Cup on Thursday, Coronation Stakes on Friday and the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday.

A graduate of the British Racing School, Tom Marquand became apprenticed to Richard Hannon in 2014 at the age of 16. He rode his first winner, Mecado, in a lowly selling stakes race at Kempton in December that year. In his first full season, 2015,  much to the delight of horse racing betting fans, he rode 67 winners and won the apprentice jockeys’ championship. In 2016, he rode a further 63 winners, thereby riding out his claim and, during the winter, enjoyed a brief, but successful, spell with Australian trainer David Hayes.

In 2017, increased his winning tally to 86, including his first Group winner, Anna Nerium, in the Dick Poole Fillies’ Stakes at Salisbury. In his next three seasons, Marquand rode 105, 136 and 147 winners, finishing fourth in the Flat jockeys’ championship in 2019 and third in 2020.

In early 2020, he returned to Australia, joining Sydney trainer John O’Shea, for whom he won both the Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on Addeybb, thereby recording his first Group 1 successes.

It’s no surprise really that he was drawn to Australian racing and experienced his first Group 1 success there, with its reputation for both top class Group 1 and feature races. This month alone, we have the likes of the Cox Plate and the Victoria Derby to look forward to. Held at Moonee Valley, Melbourne the Cox Plate is a 2040 meter race steeped in history – its origins can be traced back to 1920. Prize money for the race is a staggering $5,000,000 AUD and this year it will be held on 23rd October. Current favourite to win is the Sir Michael Stoute trained and Ahmad Alotaibi owned Zaaki at 2/1 (despite his current shock defeat coming third to Probabeel and Nonconformist at Caulfield). Racing fans will no doubt be using the best betting apps in Australia to place their wagers on this much anticipated race.

The Victoria Derby, held a week later on 30th October, is a group one race held at Flemington racecourse with still impressive prize money of  $2,000,000 AUD. Dating back to 1855 (yes you heard that right!) last years winner was Johnny Get Angry.

Both events really though can be considered somewhat secondary to the Melbourne Cup which is held early in the following month. Even in these covid times, such is the excitement and anticipation of the events that it is due to have an attendance of 10,000 as part of Australia’s re-opening plan. The Melbourne Cup, held at Flemington racecourse in Melbourne, and first held in 1861 is known as the richest two miler handicap in the world  and has prize money of a very weighty $8,000,000 AUD. Those in the running to win this years race (Held on 2nd November) include the Peter Moody trained Incentivize and Spanish Mission.

Outside of Australian racing, Marquand rode his first Group 1 winner on home soil, Galileo Chrome, in the St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster that September, having picked up a ‘spare’ ride after original jockey Shane Crosse tested positive for Covid-19. On New Year’s Eve, 2020, Marquand announced his engagement to fellow jockey Hollie Doyle, whom he originally met at pony camp ten years previously.