THE Flat jockeys championship has the potential to be a second look this season.
Often overlooked for much of the year, this time things could well be different.
Dependent on how generous you are, five or six genuine contenders are in the mix.
Of course, some will fall away but after years of a to-and-fro between two main rivals, the likes of Oisin Murphy – who has won the last two – Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle all have the firepower to take the trophy.
Add in Ben Curtis, Will Buick and Silvestre De Sousa and you could have a battle royale.
So, what do they say and what are their chances?
Tom Marquand, 23
Main backer: William Haggas
Last year finish: 3rd
TOM MARQUAND was such a success down under the locals nicknamed him Aussie Tom.
But it’s Champion Tom the 23-year-old wants to be known as from now on.
The former Champion Apprentice has made waves in recent seasons, landing his first Royal Ascot success, followed by his first Classic in the St Leger and a memorable double at British Champions Day.
After flying the nest and leaving Richard Hannon, Marquand is now a key cog in the powerful William Haggas yard.
Horses like Addeyyb, Sacred and Starman will offer plenty of chances in the big races.
But with a number of those already on the CV, it’s the jockey’s title Marquand wants added to his roll of honour.
The championship officially got underway last Saturday, 2000 Guineas day, and runs until British Champions Day in October at Ascot.
As usual it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but Marquand is keen to hit the ground running after another winter to remember down under and has three winners to his tally already. Ben Curtis leads the way on six.
He said: “Towards the end of my time in Australia, while Newmarket and Newbury were on and the Classic trials were throwing up horses, I felt for the first time that I was missing out.
“Even more with the way William Haggas started. But now I’m back it’s reignited a bit of a spark in me and it’s good to be amongst it again.
“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 and has always been loyal to me.”
Marquand might have an advantage over some of his rivals with no job as a retained rider to any owner allowing him to pick and choose where he rides.
The likes of Oisin Murphy, Silvestre De Sousa and even Hollie Doyle have to ride where their bosses run their horses.
Remarkably, in the past two weeks Marquand has ridden for 25 different trainers.
Marquand added: “I’m also lucky to have a really wide base of support beyond just William and Tony.
“I ride a lot for Hughie Morrison, Tom Ward and Ed Walker when they need me too.
“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.
“It’s going to be tough, I know that, but I’ll be going for it.”
William Buick, 32
Main backer: Charlie Appleby
Last year finish: 2nd
Buick came from nowhere to challenge Oisin Murphy late in the season.
Not content with riding just for Godolphin, Buick reignited his contacts that saw him burst on to the scene as a youngster.
He just fell short, but if commitments to Appleby and other Godolphin trainers don’t get in the way, he’ll be going hell for leather again.
He said: “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.”
Hollie Doyle, 24
Main backer: Archie Watson
Last year finish: 4th
It was a breakthrough year in many reasons for Doyle. A first Royal Ascot success and Group 1 win shot her into the limelight and she even came third in the BBC SPOTY awards.
Watson provides plenty of ammo but doesn’t have the numbers that restricts Doyle to a limited number of rides.
She said: “It’s going to be tough for someone like me to win it but I give it 100% 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 think I’m ahead of last year’s schedule, so I’ve just got to keep it up.”