Of the many sporting pursuits, horse racing provides possibly the most even playing field of all – enabling male and female riders to compete on a level footing. Whilst it is true that the majority of the most famous riders – both in the past and in the modern era – are male, slowly but surely, that pattern is beginning to change.
Hayley Turner, Cathy Gannon, Josephine Gordon, and others paved the way, and happily, as we move further into the 21st century, more and more women are beginning to break into the sport. Anyone in any doubt as to whether the ladies can perform as well as the men in the saddle need only look at the exploits of one of the stars of the modern racing game – male or female – the incredibly talented Hollie Doyle.
Standing 5ft nothing in height and weighing in at 8st, this powerhouse rider can deadlift over double that body weight, jump her height, and is more than a match for anyone who crosses her path on the racecourse. Including her husband and fellow jockey Tom Marquand.
Bred for the Job
Born on 11th October 1996, it’s fair to say that Hollie had race-riding in the genes. Father Mark was a jockey, whilst her mother Caroline regularly competed in the saddle in races for Arabian horses. Spending her early years in Hertfordshire surrounded by Point-to-Point horses and ponies, it was almost inevitable that the ultra-competitive Doyle would be bitten by the bug.
Young Hollie hadn’t even made it into double figures in years before getting the leg up on a four-legged friend for the first time. Immediately showing an aptitude for life in the saddle, it wasn’t long before Doyle’s star was on the rise.
- 2005 – Rides in her first pony race at the age of nine as a member of Radnorshire & West Hertfordshire Pony Club. Counted amongst Doyle’s early pony racing rivals was a certain Tom Marquand
- 2013 – Completes her course at the British Racing School, including a six-week stint at Santa Anita in California
- 2013 – Rides in her first race as an amateur rider aboard the David Evans-trained The Mongoose. Getting off to a flyer, Hollie came home in front aboard the 8/1 shot
- 2014 – Joined Richard Hannon as an apprentice, working alongside Tom Marquand
- 2017 – Rides out her claim to join the ranks of professional riders
- 2019 – Appointed as the retained rider for the Archie Watson yard
- 2020 – Appointed as the retained rider for powerful owner Imad Al Sagar
Into the Record Books
Many successful female riders came before Hollie Doyle, and hopefully, her performance will inspire many more in future generations. However, in many areas, the Hertfordshire heroine has surpassed the efforts of all others and set the benchmark for those to come. Hollie’s impressive list of records includes:
- 2019 – Sets a new record for the number of winners ridden by a female jockey in a single season. Her tally of 116 eclipsed Josephine Gordon’s 2017 total of 106
- 2020 – Breaks her own record with 151 winners for the season
- 2021 – Rides Sherbet Lemon to finish ninth in The Oaks – the highest finish by a female rider in a British Classic at the time
- 2021 – Breaks her own record when finishing fourth on Interpretation in the St Leger
- 2021 – Sets another new record for wins by a female rider in a season, with 172
- 2022 – Breaks her own record again when third aboard Nashwa in The Oaks
- 2022 – Finishes joint second (tied with Tom Marquand) in the Flat Jockey’s Championship – the highest-ever finish by a female rider
Hollie the First
Records come, and records go. In future years, another female rider may appear and overtake the totals amassed by Doyle. However, if you are the first to do something, you will always be the first to do it, and Hollie has earned a permanent place in the history books for a number of reasons, including:
- 2020 – Rides five winners on the card at Windsor on the 29th of August – the first time a female rider had achieved this feat in Britain
- 2020 – First female jockey to ride a winner at Ascot’s Champions Day meeting, aboard Trueshan in the Long Distance Cup
- 2021 – Rides five consecutive winners at Kempton on 3rd March – another first for a female jockey
- 2022 – Becomes the first female rider to win a French Classic – and first Group 1 Classic anywhere in Europe – when partnering Nashwa to glory in the Prix de Diane
- 2023 – First female jockey to ride a Group 1 winner at the Royal Ascot meeting when powering Bradsell to glory in the King’s Stand Stakes
All manner of events have contributed to Hollie’s impressive numbers, from low-grade novice contests at Southwell to huge Group 1 events at the biggest meetings. All count equally in the tallying of records, but the following landmark successes will likely linger a little longer in Doyle’s memory.
- First Listed Class Win – Billesdon Bess in the 2017 Upavon Stakes at Salisbury
- First Royal Ascot Win – Scarlet Dragon in the 2018 Duke of Edinburgh Stakes
- First Group Winner – Dame Malliot in the 2020 Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket
- First Group 1 Winner – Glen Shiel in the 2020 Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot
- Most Valuable Win – True Self in the 2021 Neom Turf Cup – Worth £437,956 to winning connections
Popular with punters and well respected by her fellow riders, Doyle’s exceptional levels of performance have also been officially recognised within horse racing and in the wider sporting world, as evidenced by her growing collection of awards and honours:
- 2019 – Wins the Lester Award for the Lady Jockey of the Year
- 2020 – Wins three Lester Awards, including the coveted Flat Jockey of the Year
- 2020 – Finishes third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year
- 2020 – Named The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year
- 2022 – Wins the Lester Award for the Lady Jockey of the Year for a third time
- 2023 – Wins the Silver Saddle award at the Shergar Cup Meeting
Tough as Old Boots
Plenty of highs for Hollie Doyle, and considering she is still amongst the younger riders in the weighing room, there will likely be many more to come. In common with many of her colleagues, she has earned everything that has come her way through sheer work ethic, commitment, and the ability to battle through adversity.
The life of a jockey always comes with an element of peril, and Hollie certainly hasn’t been immune to the dangers of the game. Numerous bangs on the head and broken bones have come her way, and she has twice made the headlines for more serious injuries.
In June 2018, she was unseated in an event at Haydock, resulting in a severely injured lip and several lost teeth. It took a while for Hollie to get her teeth back, but undeterred, she was back in the saddle just 10 days later.
Fast forward to 2023, and Doyle fractured an elbow and ruptured ligaments in her arm following another nasty fall at Wolverhampton. That resulted in a more extensive time on the sidelines, but two and half months later, Hollie was back in business and going about her work rattling in the winners.