It has already been a season of firsts for Hollie Doyle and the jockey of the moment will break new ground again on Friday, when she will take her first ride for Aidan O’Brien – replacing his stable jockey, Ryan Moore – in a $150,000 race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, shortly before making her Breeders’ Cup debut on Mighty Gurkha in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Moore was initially booked to ride Order Of Australia in the Bryan Station Stakes for three-year-olds, the third race on the card at Keeneland on Friday, but O’Brien’s colt is set to carry 8st 6lb, which is Moore’s lowest riding weight over the last six months.
As a result, the mount has passed to Doyle, a rider who has seized every fresh opportunity with both hands in recent months. She chalked up her first Royal Ascot winner in June, broke her own record for the most winners for a female rider in a year and also rode a double on Champions Day at Ascot last month including her first Group One win on Glen Shiel.
Doyle’s only previous experience of an American circuit, however, has come from riding trackwork at Santa Anita. The ride on Order Of Australia, who is drawn nine in a field of 14, will be a useful introduction to the pace and tactics of racing around Keeneland’s tight turf course. Doyle’s main assignment on the day will arrive less than two hours later, when she will confront a tricky draw in stall one for the Juvenile Turf Sprint aboard Archie Watson’s Mighty Gurkha.
The outsider of the field at around 25-1, Mighty Gurkha finished well beaten on heavy ground on his most recent outing at Newmarket, but was fifth in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot in June on a quicker surface, more akin to what he can expect to encounter on Friday. Mighty Gurkha is one of three European-trained challengers for the race, alongside Nigel Tinkler’s Ubettabelieveit and O’Brien’s colt Lippizaner. The likely favourite is Golden Pal,a close second behind The Lir Jet in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup meeting will take place without spectators and amid strict procedures to ensure social distancing and prevent the spread of coronavirus. All jockeys must be tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to ride at the meeting, while there are also limits on how many owners can attend to watch their horses run.
“Everybody is wearing a mask and everyone is socially distancing,” Adrian Beaumont of the International Racing Bureau said from Keeneland on Wednesday. “They are allowing up to 10 owners [per horse] and four in a trainers’ group, so there will be people here. The jockeys are all having their tests today, and they’ve all got their own quarters on the day, so the European jockeys won’t mix with the American jockeys.
“Every state has its own place on the day, so there’s a Californian jockeys’ room, a New York jockeys’ room and so on,” Beaumont added. “It’s a very good atmosphere and we’re all enjoying ourselves, and the weather is much better than it was last time.
“There’s still plenty of European horses here and the great thing is that there are about half-a-dozen jockeys that have never ridden in a Breeders’ Cup, like Hollie Doyle, Rowan Scott [who rides Ubettabelieveit], Jason Hart [who rides Safe Voyage in the Mile] and Tom Eaves [Glass Slippers, Turf Sprint]. It’s a slightly different group this year, but an exciting group.”