Declan Rix

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 Derby, three young jockeys lost big rides in the world's greatest Classic. Here, Declan Rix gives his thoughts on the matter.

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This last week has seen a significant shake-up concerning rides in the Derby, due to be run next weekend, Saturday, July 4th. Frankie Dettori replacing Tom Marquand on race favourite English King is the highest profile ‘jocking off’, but before Military March was ruled out through injury, William Buick was set to replace Hector Crouch, and, just today, Sunday, the training combination of Paul and Oliver Cole announced Andrea Atzeni will now ride Highland Chief instead of Royal Ascot-winning rider Rossa Ryan.

It has been interesting to see the various reactions from racing fans on the different bits of news breaking, and also hear from the jockeys who have lost the rides; although, publicly, Tom Marquand is the only rider to speak on the matter.

Marquand has been riding well of late so has had many a winning post-race interview to do, giving the media plenty opportunities to get his thoughts on the matter. Twenty-two year old Marquand’s response to his disappointing news has shown him to be mature beyond his years. He has handled the situation with a professional aplomb.

Concerning the fans, reactions have ranged from emotional to some taking a common-sense outlook. I don’t use the word emotional negatively, as I think the people who have reacted as such have their hearts in the right place, but I find it hard to argue against any of the above calls made by respective connections, with my own head, who are all trying to win the most coveted Flat race in the world. As the old saying goes, “there is only one Derby”.

Yes, of course it would be great to see the young talents of Crouch, Marquand and Ryan all get their chance on the biggest stage of all, but can anyone really argue, the respective bookings of Buick, Dettori and Atzeni are not serving in the best interests of the aforementioned horses?

Military March does not go to Epsom now, but with Buick clearly being Godolphin’s number one rider it would have made perfect sense for the 2018 Derby-winning jockey of Masar to replace the lesser experienced and lesser talented 23-year-old Crouch. That is in no way a dig at Crouch, who is still a young rider making his way; we are simply looking at two different people at different stages in their careers.

This view couldn’t be starker when one compares 22-year-old Marquand to the evergreen 49-year-old Dettori, now a 73-time Royal Ascot race-winning rider. Marquand has got the potential to be an elite level rider of domestic and international Group 1s, but his abilities currently don’t stack-up to what Dettori can offer; to be fair, there is probably only a handful of riders world-wide who do, so, that is not a dig at the likable Marquand, just a matter of fact at this given time.

Ability is one element I am sure English King’s owner Bjorn Nielsen and trainer Ed Walker considered when giving the ride to Dettori, but so is experience. Dettori is one of the most skilled (and successful) jockeys on the planet right now, while Marquand is just starting his career journey in comparison. The two traits go hand-in-hand in sport, and life; experience compliments ability. Dettori now has both in abundance.  

While I absolutely think connections of English King have made the right call, one does feel for Marquand, whose career trajectory has risen and risen since his apprentice days. Just this year he broke his Group 1 duck on Addeybb in Australia, and for good measure, followed up with another top-level victory aboard the same horse four weeks later.

Marquand rode his maiden Royal Ascot victory aboard Who Dares Win just over a week ago and in two rides aboard English King, has remained unbeaten. The young rider gave the Derby favourite a beautiful and educational steer to win the Lingfield Derby Trial, especially given the circumstances of his mount lacking experience going into the race.

Marquand can count himself particularly unlucky this year given John Gosden, Dettori’s trainer, has no runner in the Blue Riband event, the first time he won’t have a representative since 2013, but while Marquand is on the threshold of breaking into a big-time domestic jockey, he remains on it, while Dettori broke through many, many years ago.

I feel for Marquand, I really do, as he has earned this shot on a horse he knows, but Frankie Dettori is the one rider you want on your team, and not competing against you. Every big-race metric out there tells you that when these two go head-to-head.

Rossa Ryan is certainly another young rider you can feel for, the 19-year-old finding out on Sunday he will be replaced by Andrea Atzeni on Highland Chief, this despite winning on the horse at Royal Ascot and like Marquand, bagging his first Royal Ascot race.

Again, I think this is an easy case to argue, with 29-year-old Atzeni simply at a different stage in his career, both in terms of ability and experience. Atzeni has ridden 25 Group 1 winners, including two St Legers, a King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a Juddmonte International Stakes, an Irish Champion Stakes and last season’s Coronation Cup, run over the Derby course and distance.

Those achievements and experiences Ryan can’t match, but one day, he may well do so. Like Marquand, time is on his side and who knows, in ten years’ time, it could be this pair – along with Hector Crouch – jocking off younger riders in similar circumstances. While tough, the merry-go-round is part and parcel of being a jockey.

Age has played a part here, and obviously has a direct correlation with experience, but hopefully people don’t get too caught up in the whole “well, how is a young jockey supposed to get experience” talk. In sport, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and at this time in their careers, Crouch, Marquand and Ryan simply don’t match up to Atzeni, Buick and Dettori.

I take no pleasure in saying those words, but I think that is the reality of this situation and all connections associated with English King, Highland Chief and Military March have made the right calls; and even in (potential) defeat, they will remain the right calls.






Declan Rix
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