- Tom Marquand was given Royal approval for his winning rides on Desert Hero
- The 25-year-old jockey enjoyed success at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood
- Big Evs will give him his first spin in the Breeders’ Cup on Friday night
Tom Marquand kept turning his head as he tried to take in the sights and sounds. The San Gabriel Mountains were behind him, as the Californian sunrise burnt through in the distance. For once, he knew how it felt to be a tourist rather than a jockey.
‘It’s just spectacular, isn’t it?’ said Marquand. ‘It’s like being on a movie set, it’s so cool. It’s definitely one of the most picturesque tracks in the world. I’ve always loved Goodwood but it’s a little bit different, isn’t it? It’s just good to be here — especially with a horse like him.’
If Marquand was in awe of Santa Anita, the course dubbed ‘The Great Race Place’, he is even more enamoured with Big Evs, the colt who will give him his first spin in the Breeders’ Cup on Friday night when he contests the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Marquand has had a dream season. He was given Royal approval in the summer, with King Charles personally expressing his delight and thanks to the 25-year-old for his winning rides on Desert Hero at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.
But the best could yet come on Big Evs, the pocket rocket trained by Mick Appleby. Marquand hopped on him for the first time at Doncaster in September and the look of disbelief on his face as he discussed that performance was the same when he described Santa Anita.
Jockey Tom Marquand was given Royal approval for his winning rides on Desert Hero
‘You almost want to pick a hole in a horse when you ride them, to try to find a fault,’ said Marquand.
‘But, to be honest, you can’t. He looks fantastic and he has taken the travel so well. He’s got a good draw. He’ll have to be very good to win and he’ll have to be fast. But he is fast.’
Rachael and Paul Teasdale, who own Big Evs, were offered fortunes to sell in the summer after he had won the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot and followed up in the Molecomb Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. Sheik Mohammed was believed to have been ready to pay more than £1million.
A sale was never on the cards, though, as Big Evs is named in honour of a close family friend of the Teasdales who died last November.
To watch Big Evs over the last couple of mornings at Santa Anita has been to see a horse in the zone. Marquand got the leg up on Wednesday; his usual work rider Freddie Larson took over yesterday when he had a stalls test.
As soon as the gates opened, he popped out as swiftly as a champagne cork, breezed for 100 yards and then took a breath. Appleby, having his first runner in the United States, has made no secret that Big Evs will blaze away — it will then be up to the rest to catch him if they can.
‘That is the beautiful thing about his season,’ said Marquand. ‘For a team like Mick’s to unearth a proper gem, then be brave enough to bring him over here. Everyone can appreciate how well they have done.
Big Evs is named in honour of a close family friend of the owners who died last November
‘You see Aidan O’Brien’s string and it puts it into perspective. They bring an army to go to war. Most yards just come with one. To find a horse good enough to compete, it’s a joy. Everyone is delighted to see a yard like this come over with a good one that has a chance.
‘These are the magical days. To be here is great but if you are riding good horses, you want to be coming to places such as these.
‘And he is very good. The reality is that he will have to be very good again.’
If all goes well, then the scenery around Santa Anita might not be the only thing that is spectacular.