The race for the Champion Flat Jockey begins on QIPCO 2000 Guineas day at Newmarket on Saturday, and competition for the title has seldom been keener.
No fewer than five credible candidates are generally trading at single-figure odds and bookmakers unable to even agree upon who should be favourite.
Will we see a new name on the trophy when the competition concludes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on 16th October, or can Oisin Murphy emulate recent three-times champion Silvestre De Sousa by landing a third title? It’s all to play for.
Last year’s position: 1st
Having claimed 142 winners last season, Oisin Murphy will be attempting to win the Flat Jockeys’ Championship for the third successive year. If he pulls off the hat‐trick of titles he’ll be in good company. Steve Cauthen, Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori and Richard Hughes were all Champion Jockey on three occasions.
Murphy has every opportunity to win many more and he has looked every inch a champion ever since making a stunning start to his career after joining Andrew Balding in 2013.
He was champion apprentice the following year and his talents were soon spotted by the burgeoning Qatar Racing operation. The move was rewarded with a string of big‐race winners.
Roaring Lion famously landed a stunning Group 1 four‐timer in 2018 and Lightning Spear won the Sussex Stakes in the famous maroon Qatar Racing silks the same summer. Murphy, who is a nephew of Best Mate’s jockey Jim Culloty, lifted his first Classic trophy last season when Kameko swooped late to land the Qipco 2000 Guineas.
He will have a decent chance of landing the Qipco 1000 Guineas on Alcohol Free as the Jockeys’ Championship kicks off on a glittering weekend at Newmarket. His trainer Andrew Balding will be among Murphy’s chief supporters this season, but there is no doubt the champ has a real fight on his hands to retain his title.
It’s a very competitive weighing room in Britain, as we all know, and there are stars and big-name jockeys everywhere you look. William Buick and Tom Marquand in particular are very eager to be champion jockey and they deserve a lot of respect.
On a personal level it would be very special to me if I could win the championship for a third time. I’ve worked very hard ever since I got my apprentice licence and I’m fortunate to ride for a lot of great people. That’s been good enough for the last two years and hopefully it will be good enough again. It’s a long, tiring season, but riding good horses keeps you going and I’ll certainly be doing my best.
Last year’s position: 2nd
William Buick pushed Oisin Murphy hardest in last season’s battle to be Champion Flat Jockey. Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby’s number one rider finished with 134 winners – just eight behind his title rival – and he promises to be a big threat again this year.
His successful season was most welcome having missed most of the summer of 2019 with a head injury sustained in a fall at Ascot. Given Buick’s track record since he shared the apprentice title with David Probert in 2008, he was always likely to bounce back from that frustrating year.
Born in Norway where his jockey‐father Walter was riding, Buick has long‐since been firmly established in racing’s premier division. Among the champions he has ridden to big‐race glory are The Fugue, Ribchester, Blue Point and Derby hero Masar.
Perhaps surprisingly, he’s yet to win the Qipco 2000 Guineas but he looks to have a great chance of ticking that Group 1 prize off his bucket list when he teams up with One Ruler in the Newmarket Classic.
If the ammunition of Godolphin wasn’t enough, Buick is likely to receive plenty of support from the father‐and‐son team of Simon and Ed Crisford as well as Sir Michael Stoute and his old boss Andrew Balding in his quest to be Champion Jockey for the first time.
At 32 he is the oldest of the main contenders for the championship, but he is unlikely to be far away when the season’s totals are counted up on Qipco British Champions Day.
It’s no secret that it’s a big ambition of mine and I’ll be giving it my best shot this year. I’ve come close a couple of times, without quite threatening, but I’ve never before put my heart and soul into chasing it as much as you need to.
Last year I learned a lot chasing Oisin and I've hopefully taken a lot of positives out of the experience. I kept my head down and kept trying, and I got almost within touching distance, but I was under no illusions about how hard it was going to be chasing winners towards the end of the season when I was adrift.
“We all know how much needs to go right throughout the season for it to happen. You need a lot of firepower, you need a lot of support, and you need to stay focussed and keep making the right decisions. It’s not easy, and that’s why it’s so sought after.
Last year’s position: 5th
When you can rely on the huge firepower of Mark Johnston’s powerful stable, you are always going to be a contender for the Flat Jockeys’ Championship.
The Yorkshire‐based trainer, who has saddled more winners than anyone else in British racing history, snapped up Ben Curtis in the winter to add him to his team of jockeys. The partnership have hit the ground running and they are likely to be a force to be reckoned with during the new Flat racing season.
Curtis’ career has been one of the steady progress since returning to Britain from his native Ireland for a second spell seven years ago. A personal‐best 92 winners last season contained four Group races, including a first Royal Ascot victory on Dandalla in the Albany Stakes.
Nayef Road, trained by Johnston, gave Curtis another big‐race victory when he won the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in the first week of the season ‐ a performance that clearly impressed his trainer.
Silvestre de Sousa’s three Flat Jockey Championships were powered by Johnston’s prolific stable and there’s sure to be plenty of support for Curtis’ title challenge.
Roger Fell, Marco Botti, Mick Appleby and Karl Burke are all likely to supply a stream of winners as the new season gathers pace. That depth of backing makes 31‐year‐old Curtis a live contender to win his first jockeys’ crown.
I had a fantastic year numbers wise in 2020, and there was a lot more quality too. The game plan again is to keep building up the quality and also to put my head down and ride as many winners as I can, then see where I am when we get to Goodwood. If I’m in contention at that stage I’ll be giving it 100 per cent.
Last year I had only a small and select set of rides for Mark Johnston but we had a good strike rate and it ended up very fruitful. It’s great to be asked to jump on board a lot more for him this year and hopefully they can contribute to that big number I’m going to need for the title, whether it’s this year or next.
It’s going to be very competitive and Oisin and William are entitled to be heading the market because of the ammunition they have. I’ll need everything to fall right, but fingers crossed it will.
Last year’s position: 4th
Last year could hardly have gone any better for Hollie Doyle. Less than three weeks after the delayed start to the 2020 Flat season, the 24‐year‐old rode her first Royal Ascot winner on Scarlet Dragon in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes and things just kept getting better.
A first Group‐race victory in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket was quickly followed by a stunning Windsor five‐timer. The winners continued to flow right up to the final day and beyond. Her two victories on Qipco Champions Day included a first Group 1 success on star sprinter Glen Shiel and it brought her seasonal tally to 94 winners.
That total saw Doyle finish fourth in the Flat Jockeys Championship and she went on to break her own record for winners in a calendar year by a female jockey. Such impressive success made her the most decorated jockey when awards season came around.
In the annual ‘Lesters’ ‐ voted for by her follow jockeys ‐ she picked up five awards. She was also named Sportswoman of the Year by The Sunday Times and finished third in the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Doyle, who is engaged to title rival Tom Marquand, will start this season in tremendous form having notched up a Leicester four‐timer recently to add to her five consecutive winners at Kempton in March.
Her services are sure to be in demand from dozens of trainers with main ally Archie Watson certain to provide a stack of winners. The meteoric rise of one of Flat racing’s most reliable riders continues apace and she must have realistic claims of becoming the first female Champion Jockey.
It’s going to be tough for someone like me to win it but I give it 100 per cent every year. I try my hardest and it’s just whether I’m in a position to go for it. I had a great year last year and I must make sure I don’t give the people who used me then any reason not to use me in future.
I’ve made a great start this year and through the pre-championship months I think I’m ahead of last year’s schedule, so I’ve just got to keep it up.
Last year’s position: 3rd
Ever since Tom Marquand burst onto the Flat racing scene as a fresh‐faced teenager he has looked destined for the top. He followed Oisin Murphy as Champion Apprentice when taking the title in 2015 and has risen through the ranks to become one of the most in‐demand riders.
The 23‐year‐old, whose name belies his Cotswold roots, had more rides last season than any other jockey and his 114 winners put him in third place in the race to be champion.
Having come in as a late replacement for Shane Crosse, Marquand landed his first Classic when Galileo Chrome won the St Leger in September. That first British Group 1 success was swiftly followed by his second when Addeybb won the Qipco Champion Stakes on the final day at Ascot.
Addeybb, trained by William Haggas, had previously given Marquand two top‐level victories in Australia and the pair teamed up earlier this month to win the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick for a second successive year.
It didn’t take Marquand long to get in the groove on his British return. He won the Classic Trial at Sandown on Alenquer on his very first ride.
Haggas will provide a healthy supply of both quality and quantity, with Marquand likely to get plenty of backing from the likes of Ed Walker and Tony Carroll. It could be enough to land him his first Champion Jockeys’ title.
In my last ten days or so in Australia, while Newmarket and Newbury were on, I felt for the first time that I was missing out, especially with William (Haggas) having such a great week, and now I’m back it’s reignited a bit of a spark in me.
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in and hoping I can get off to a flier, as that’s what I’ll need for the championship. William has been my biggest supporter for the last year and a half or so, and he’s got an extremely powerful team, and Tony Carroll has provided me with 15 to 20 winners every single year.
I’m also lucky to have a really wide base of support beyond them though, and in a championship season of under six months I think that really helps, because you need to be firing in winners every single week. If you are relying mainly on one trainer who goes quiet for a bit, that might be costing you eight or ten winners a week.