At the time of writing, Tom Marquand has recently hit the headlines by riding his first Royal Ascot winner, Who Dares Wins, in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, just 24 hours after his partner, Hollie Doyle, did likewise on Scarlet Dragon, in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, for the same connections. Earlier in 2020, with British racing suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Marquand continued to ply his trade, behind closed doors, in Australia. Indeed, on March 20, he recorded his first Group One victory on Addeybb, trained by William Haggas, in the Ranvet Stakes at Rosehill and his second, on the same horse, in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick the following month.
Winning trainer William Haggas said of Marquand, ‘…I’ve said several times I believe him to be a future champion over here. I hope he stays in England to prove it.’
Born on March 30, 1998, so still only 22, Marquand has enjoyed a spectacular rise through the ranks. A graduate from the field of pony racing, he became apprenticed to Richard Hannon in 2014 and rode the one and only winner of his debut season, the two-year-old Mecado, in a four-runner selling stakes race at Kempton in December that year. However, less than a year later, in October, 2015, Marquand was crowned Champion Apprentice, edging out his nearest rival, Jack Garrity, 54-52 on the final day of the season.
In April, 1985, having ridden 1,138 winners and won the National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship seven times, John Francome announced his immediate retirement from the saddle. His decision, at the age of 32, took many observers by surprise, but Francome had made it known to his one and only boss, Fred Winter, a year earlier that the 1984/85 would be his last. Indeed, Francome later cited disillusionment with continuous dieting, constant hunger and other lifestyle factors, including driving, as the principal reasons for calling time on his riding career; by his own admission, he ‘probably got a little bit bored with it’.
Nevertheless, his decision to retire was hastened by events at Chepstow on April 9, 1985. Having parted company with his mount, The Reject, who fell at the open ditch, Francome found himself briefly ‘hung up’, with his foot jammed in a stirrup iron and the stirrup leather twisted around his shin in such a way that he could not free himself. Thankfully, he managed to avoid a potentially life-threatening situation by seizing the reins before The Reject could gallop off, but thereafter his ‘head wasn’t in the right place’ and he ‘quit there and then’, without giving the decision a second thought.
Harry Cobden was announced as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls at Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, Somerset in May, 2018, immediately prior to the start of the 2018/19 National Hunt season. Cobden succeeded Sam Twiston-Davies, who had replaced the previous incumbent, Daryl Jacob, four years earlier, but chose to go freelance in the face of increased competition for rides from the likes of Cobden, Bryony Frost and Sean Bowen.
A graduate from pony racing, Cobden was encouraged to pursue a career as a jockey by local trainer Ron Hodges, for whom he began riding out at the age of just nine. Cobden left school, at the age of 16, in 2014 and spent seven months working for Dorset trainer Anthony Honeyball before being offered the position of conditional jockey at Nicholls’ yard. In his first season at Manor Farm, 2015/16, Cobden rode 30 winners but, in 2016/17, increased his winning seasonal tally to 63 winners; he rode out his claim in early February, 2017 and subsequently won the conditional jockeys’ championship by a wide margin. With continued support from Nicholls and fellow West Country trainer Colin Tizzard, Cobden has pressed on with his career, riding 76, 109 and 83 winners in 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively. His meteoric rise to the top of his profession has already included seven Grade One winners and he looks to have a bright future.
David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, born on March 19, 1939, was the son of champion jockey Herbert ‘Frenchie’ Nicholson and, although he was never champion jockey himself, rode 583 winners, including Mill House in the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup, now the Bet365 Gold Cup. Nicholson was known for his forthright attitude, bordering on arrogance, which led to him being nicknamed ‘The Duke’ from an early age, when apprenticed to his father.
Following his retirement from the saddle in April, 1974, Nicholson went on to become an even better trainer than he had been a jockey. All told, in a 31-year career, he saddled a total of 1,499 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship twice, in 1993/94 and 1994/95, making him the only trainer other than Martin Pipe to win the trainers’ title between 1988/89 and 2004/05. Notable winners included Charter Party in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1988 and Viking Flagship in back-to-back renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1994 and 1995.
Nicholson, who died of a heart attack on August 27, 2006, is commemorated by the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle – known, for sponsorship purposes, as the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle and formerly as the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – at the Cheltenham Festival, which was inaugurated in 2008 and is, nowadays, a Grade One contest.