Talking Horses: Doyle takes third but is big winner after stellar year

Hollie Doyle had to settle for a place in the frame at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards on Sunday evening, but in some respects she was still the biggest winner of the night, both in terms of raising her public and professional profile, and also on behalf of the sport and industry she represents.

Doyle, 24, is possibly the only person in Britain who does not want 2020 to end. It is just her latest achievement, among so many over the past few months, to have got within a length or two of winning such a prestigious award at such an early stage of her career.

Ten years ago, when Tony McCoy became the first Spoty winner from racing, he was firmly established as the most successful jockey in National Hunt history. Having finally landed the Grand National at the 15th attempt in April 2010, he then rode a wave of goodwill – and not a little relief – all the way to victory in December.

McCoy also made the podium twice, in third place, in 2002 (the year when he beat Sir Gordon Richards’s 55-year-old record of 269 winners in a season) and 2013 (a month after riding his 4,000th winner). And even when Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners at Ascot on QEII day, it was only enough to get him to the same third place at Spoty a couple of months later.

Doyle, by contrast, is at a very different point in her career path, and should still have the best and most productive seasons of her career ahead.

Her headline-grabbing achievements have tended to fall into one of two categories. Some are related to her gender. She set a record (beating her own mark from 2019) for winners in a year for a female jockey, which is all the more remarkable given that the campaign lost two and a half months to lockdown in the spring. She was also the first woman to ride five winners on a single card.

Hollie Doyle has had an impressive 2020.
Hollie Doyle has had an impressive 2020. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/PA

The more significant milestones, though, have been those that chart the progress of any jockey, male or female, including several that many riders never reach. There was a first winner at Royal Ascot in June, a first Group Two winner the following month and then, on Champions Day in October, Doyle’s first Group One victory – something the overwhelming majority of riders never get to celebrate. More recently, her first ride at the Breeders’ Cup in the United States was followed a few weeks later by a first winner in Hong Kong.

She is a hugely talented, highly successful young jockey who just happens to be female, and edging ever closer to the tiny elite of Flat jockeys who carve up the majority of the biggest races between themselves.

Of the 71 Group One races in Britain since the start of 2019, 54% have been won by four riders: Frankie Dettori (17), Ryan Moore (eight), Jim Crowley (seven) and Oisin Murphy ( six). William Buick, the most successful of Godolphin’s principal jockeys, has five.

All these riders have big-money retainers giving them access to a wealth of Group One opportunities every season, and while Dettori has just celebrated his 50th birthday, it is odds-against that any of them will vacate their hard-won positions this year or next.

At this stage in their careers, all that the leading talents in the next generation of jockeys – including Doyle and her partner, Tom Marquand – can do is to ensure that they are up for consideration if or when one of the big jobs becomes available.

Quick Guide

Monday’s racing tips



12.15 Moon King, 12.45 Flood Defence, 1.15 Definite Wisdom, 1.45 Handy Hollow, 2.15 Barnay, 2.45 Overcourt (nap), 3.15 Misty Mani


1.55 Solo Saxophone, 2.25 Captain Cooper, 2.55 Glasvegas, 3.25 Palazzo, 3.55 Ursa Minor, 4.25 Be Proud, 4.55 Rockley Point, 5.25 Daysaq

Lingfield Park

 12.30 Regal Eagle, 1.00 Vital Force, 1.30 Kodiac Harbour, 2.05 Tin Hat, 2.35 Patsy Fagan, 3.05 Smokey (nb), 3.35 Gold Standard

And the best way for a rider just outside the elite to maintain and boost their profile is to launch a serious challenge for the Flat jockeys’ championship. Murphy (5-4) and Buick (2-1) head the market but Marquand (6-1) and Doyle (10-1) are next in the list and perfectly poised to give it their best shot.

What a months-long win for racing that could be. The Flat championship plays out around the country and day-by-day. A close title race involving Doyle and quite possibly Marquand too would be a promotional godsend for a sport that has lost hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue to the pandemic.

Doyle has, to date, achieved much less than her racing predecessors on the Spoty podium, but simply by standing alongside Lewis Hamilton, Jordan Henderson and the other shortlisted contenders, she has planted a seed of recognition in the public consciousness. If it continues to grow over the years ahead, the benefit for racing could be incalculable.