Hollie Doyle has been locked in her garage during lockdown with one focus – taking another hammer blow at her sport’s glass ceiling at Royal Ascot, writes James Toney.
Ladies’ Day has a whole new meaning for Doyle, 23, who is fast underlining why it should be every day, not just one Thursday in June.
Doyle – who last year broke the record for the most winners in a year by a female jockey – has collected so many bottles of winner’s champagne she could open an off licence but she’s no intention of cracking one open to celebrate just yet.
She’s fully focussed on landing one of her sport’s biggest prizes at Flat racing’s most fabled meeting – and would like to do it before Tom Marquand, her partner and another rising star of the sport.
Marquand headed Down Under during lockdown to ride a series of big winners in Australia while Doyle sweated it out in their garage, picking her way between bikes and exercise equipment to spend time working out her racehorse simulator, a blue metal torture contraption that doesn’t need sugar lumps.
It’s 33 years since Gay Kelleway became the first woman jockey to win at Royal Ascot, with a 1987 ride on Sprowston Boy in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
Last year Hayley Turner ended a three decade plus wait for win number two – triumphing in the Sandringham Stakes.
Doyle is in no mood to wait any longer than necessary to chalk up number three – riding Upper Lambourn trainer Archie Watson’s Glen Shiel in Tuesday’s opening race, the Buckingham Palace Handicap.
“I just want women winning at Royal Ascot to become a normal thing, not a big story,” said Doyle.
“It was getting boring having all these years between Gay winning but thankfully Hayley ended the wait. I was so pleased for her because of what she’s done for women jockeys, I think the emotion was just relief that long was over.
“If it becomes a regular occurrence then that will be a huge step forward for the sport.”
In jumps racing the likes of Nina Carberry and Kate Walsh have been long established trailblazers for women jockeys while fellow Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore won a string of big races in recent months.
Progress has been a little slower on the flat, though Doyle and Turner will be joined by Nicola Currie, Josephine Gordon and Megan Nicholls in Royal Ascot’s weighing room.
The diminutive Doyle is barely five foot tall but is as hard as nails.
She’s up at 5am every day, works seven days a week and probably spends more time in her car – racing between tracks – than she does in bed.
Doyle’s future was perhaps never in doubt – father was a jockey and she was on a horse virtually as soon as she could walk.
From her first wins at Pony Club her ambition was clear and one day after receiving her GCSE results, she packed her bags as left Herefordshire for Wales, riding for maverick trainer David Evans – whose school of hard knocks approach moulded her work ethic.
Last year she had all her teeth kicked out after a fall but £8,000 of dental work later and she can afford a broad smile about a year that has seen her establish her credentials.
Classic-winning trainer Richard Hannon has spoken about her fearsome work ethic, having been an early supporter of her career.
And while most of her winners have come for the prolific Watson, 41 other trainers have benefited from her winning touch too.
“I’ve had to work hard for this, the first few years racing were really demanding and that certainly toughened me up,” added Doyle.
“This is all I’ve wanted so I’ve never considered giving up, I just have to work harder at it than some of the other guys.”
Marquand, who’ll ride Silent Attack in Tuesday’s opener, sees her dedication to the cause at close quarters and is full of admiration for his partner.
Though that doesn’t mean he’ll be holding back in pursuit of his first Royal Ascot winner, should the two be battling to the winning post shortly after 1pm on Tuesday.
“She’s relentless,” he said. “She doesn’t want to be seen as a female jockey – just a jockey in her own right and that’s one of the things that makes her special.”