TOM Marquand hopes Britain can learn from Australia’s quarantine rules as he describes a top jockey’s life in lockdown isolation.
The St Leger-winning rider has just begun two weeks ‘solitary confinement’ in a Sydney hotel room before he is cleared to compete in a number of major races.
Marquand’s ultimate objective is to replicate last year’s two Group One successes on Addeybb – global victories, albeit in front of empty stands, that took his career to new heights and, ultimately, paved the way for Classic glory at Doncaster on Galileo Chrome.
Without the wins Down Under, he believes it was less likely that he would have got the call from Joseph O’Brien when a spare ride became available in the St Leger.
But his experience so far also offers a timely insight into Australia’s approach to Covid ahead of the UK government introducing its own quarantine rules on Monday – including 14-day hotel stays for people arriving from designated virus hotspots.
“If you don’t like it, don’t come. That was the vibe coming through the airport at Sydney,” Marquand told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview. “Some people might take it the wrong way – but it is a worldwide pandemic. If you can’t be matter of fact about it, what can you be?”
The well-spoken 23-year-old – and his fiancée Hollie Doyle – lit up Flat racing last year and dominated the Qipco British Champions Day meeting where Marquand landed the feature race on the aforementioned Addeybb.
This dominant victory convinced Yorkshire-born trainer William Haggas, and owner Sheikh Ahmed, to send their champion back to defend the Ranvet Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes – the two Group Ones which the gelding won last spring.
And, while Addeybb is now in quarantine before leaving Britain, Marquand flew to Australia this week to begin his own isolation so that he can then ride in a number of major races and build on connections made 12 months ago.
Before he left Britain, he had to secure a visa – and convince the Australian authorities about the trip’s legitimacy – before passing a Covid test. It was not assured, even for a global sportsman.
Once at Sydney’s airport, which he described as “pretty quiet”, he went through three separate ‘check points’ pertaining to face masks, temperature and other Covid protocols.
Marquand was then assigned to a bus – and dropped off at a downtown Sydney hotel. “There’s no choice – you get what you’re given and you for pay for it and that’s what it is,” says the rider.
Visitors are charged a flat fee of 3,000 Australian dollars for the privilege – a deterrent to travelling. “I wouldn’t say it is lovely, but it is okay. The view is pretty average, it is what it is. I have got a bit of space so, to be honest, it could he worse.”
That ‘space’ is now taken up by a racing bicycle attached to a turbo trainer that he ordered in advance – a tip from a physio – and had delivered to his hotel once he knew where he was staying. The Zwift app means he can effectively enjoy and experience cycle rides around the world while pedalling on the same spot. “To be honest, it’s an easy way to keep your weight down,” he says.
Like the bicycle, hotel staff deliver food to Marquand’s room and knock on the door. Only when they have left is he allowed to open it and pick up his deliveries. The regime is that strict.
Military personnel patrol the reception to ensure rules are enforced. “The whole hotel is in lockdown,” reports the jockey who is counting down the days, and hours, to his ‘release’ at 4pm on February 23. “I’ve the full two weeks to do before being let out.
“You have three Covid tests – when you arrive, on your second day and on your 10th day. They are not doing things by half. If you refuse a test, they actually make you quarantine for 24 days. You can’t break any rules.”
Yet, far from being frustrated by the process, Marquand is understanding of the steps being taken to protect his health and that of others. He’s now in a routine, getting up at 8am to begin a morning exercise blast, and ensuring there’s a purpose to each day so he doesn’t “slouch” around. Racing and Australian Open tennis on TV also help.
And having won over the hearts of the Australian racing public last year when he became known as ‘Aussie Tom’, Marquand reviews his quarantine as “an investment” if he goes on to enjoy success on the track.
Already he’s lining up rides for the first meetings after quarantine ends – but the trip will be defined by Addeybb’s races. “Realistically, if he turns up in similar form to last year, he is going to be hard to beat,” he ventures. “Whether he does or not is another matter. Doing it once is hard enough; doing it twice is tricky. But he looked an absolute picture at home – and I hope it goes well with his quarantine and journey.
“Last year it was made to look easy because everything went right.
“There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. If it comes off, he could be the highest rated horse in the world.”
It explains why Tom Marquand is so sanguine about being ‘holed up’ in a hotel.
He knows he’s fortunate to be in such a position – and his experience 12 months ago, as Australia closed its borders before the rest of the world, offers another perspective.
“It’s surprising that it is 11 months since Australia went into lockdown and England is only just doing it,” he added.
“It’s a massive inconvenience to sit in a hotel for two weeks but you can’t help but think that it is the right way to do it.
“Everyone is abiding by the rules.”
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