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The star British rider took time out on a low-key afternoon at Ripon races to share her enthusiasm for Japan and a desire to improve on her debut experience there.
Hollie Doyle has unfinished business in Japan. The queen of last weekend’s Shergar Cup had her first taste of riding the Japan Racing Association (JRA) circuit last winter, alongside her husband Tom Marquand, but while Marquand bagged 16 wins during that two-month spell, a lean two winners was Doyle’s reward for her 107 rides.
That disparity of achievement is alien to the couple: right now, Marquand is second to William Buick in the British jockeys’ title race, and breathing down his neck, only two wins behind in third, is Doyle. Her 60 wins in the premiership (78 for the year) have come at a 16 percent strike rate, and her campaign features two Group 1 wins plus a European Classic, no less.
But she is itching for a second shot at Japan and is hoping that her impressive domestic form will convince the JRA to grant it.
“I’m applying to go back because I want to go and give it another go, if they’ll have me,” she told Asian Racing Report during a low-key afternoon at Ripon races ahead of her Shergar Cup-winning heroics. “I didn’t want to leave Japan: I loved it. I loved the way everyone was so passionate about it all, and the horses, they have such an understanding of the horses out there.
“Even though the language barrier was hard, I still felt like I had a good connection with everyone over there. I remember walking out of Nakayama, my last ride before I left, and all the fans were queuing up to wave at me: I almost shed a tear. It’s such a different world.”
An Oaks d’Italia victory in June aboard Shavasana in the colours of Katsumi Yoshida can’t have harmed her chances of another short-term winter licence. Counting against her is that low winner tally and the mightily competitive jostle of overseas jockeys trying to get a fingertip grip on the JRA ladder.
“My number of winners wasn’t very good, which was hard because Tom was banging in two and three winners a weekend,” she continued.
“I had so much support, in the sense that the trainers were giving me the rides, but just not those good rides that would get me more winners. But, you know, I can’t just walk into a foreign country where the top jockeys in the world go and expect to be gifted these top rides.
“That’s why I want to give it another go: I know a lot more now, I know a bit more about how the system works, how people think, so if I can give it another go, then if it doesn’t work out at least I can walk away and say I gave it 100 percent; if it works, happy days, I’d try and go again.”
Struggling to get on the right horses in Japan was tough, but she has processed her take on the two-month experience into a refreshing blend of realism and positivity.
“I’ve had such a good time of it in England, things have been so good the last few years, that I think it’s always good to be kept grounded,” she said.
“I haven’t had anything come easily to me, so how could I have expected to have gone there and had things easy; I wasn’t surprised. I don’t back down easily so I try and prove myself.”
Doyle’s rise to the top of the sport saw her nail a century of wins in 2019 and she has ridden more than 150 winners in each of her last three seasons in Britain alone, all while lifting her international profile with winter engagements abroad.
She is pleased with how her campaign at home is playing out, particularly after the horrific fall at Wolverhampton in January that left her with a fractured arm, dislocated elbow, and ligament damage.
“When you get injured it’s so annoying, very frustrating, and injuries do take their toll,” she said. “But when I came back I hit the ground running; the injury wasn’t great but it could have been a lot worse.
“I’m always trying to ride as many winners as I can, every day. I want to be champion jockey. Tom and I are at a level where we’re not William Buick and Ryan Moore where we can pick and choose where we go every day; Tom has started breaking into that next level so maybe one day, but it’s hard. We are going racing every day for our bosses, being sent places, so we take the good days and the bad days, it’s part of the job.”
Hence her one unplaced ride in North Yorkshire that afternoon, for owner Imad Al Sagar.
But days like those are the unheralded graft that underpin the big days, which lead to invitations to Japan and to Hong Kong.
She hopes to travel to Hong Kong again this winter, too, perhaps for another shot at the International Jockeys Championship at which she has become a regular in recent years.
“I’d love to, if they’ll have me; it’s a different feeling there, a different passion,” she said. “I’ve had success there and I’ve only ridden Happy Valley; it would be nice to get on (a Group 1 horse) at Sha Tin, but it’s like hen’s teeth trying to find those good horses in this country, let alone abroad.”
A continuation of her season’s form will no doubt put Doyle on the shortlists for Japan and Hong Kong; and you never know, she might yet pull a hen’s tooth of a horse when the international circus rolls into Sha Tin this December.
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