Tom Marquand is concentrating on the result rather than the occasion ahead of his bid to carry the royal colours to Classic glory in the Betfred St Leger at Doncaster.
It is 46 years since Dunfermline provided the late Queen with the last of her five British Classic wins in the Town Moor showpiece and optimism is high that Desert Hero can end the long wait for another victory by adding his name to the roll of honour on Saturday.
The William Haggas-trained colt brought the house down after giving the newly-crowned King and Queen their first taste of Royal Ascot success in the King George V Stakes in June and he has since enhanced his Leger claims by landing the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.
Marquand has ridden multiple Group One winners at home and abroad, including a first Classic win with Galileo Chrome in a behind-closed-doors Leger three years ago – but in his view Desert Hero’s victory in Berkshire three months ago tops the lot.
“I’d be lying if I said anything other than I didn’t even give it a thought beforehand, as a jockey you don’t. There’s only one thing that matters and that’s winning and everything else pales into insignificance unless you win,” he said.
“It was an absolutely incredible day and an extremely special one that will probably rank up right up there for the rest of my days riding.
“Honestly, it’s probably the highest. Obviously you’ll have higher profile wins in higher grade races, but as an Englishman the opportunity to ride the King’s first Royal Ascot winner, with them there and seeing the excitement and the pleasure both the King and Queen got from it, was incredible.”
Following the late Queen’s death 12 months ago, there were genuine concerns the royal patronage of the sport might fade. Marquand feels Desert Hero’s Ascot win went some way to allaying those fears.
“For racing it’s extremely important and gratifying that the passion for the sport that we all love so much is there,” he continued.
“I think that’s what made the occasion so special, that it was so clear for everyone that was there and watching on the TV as well the joy the King and Queen got from that winner.
“I didn’t think that I’d get a Classic-winning opportunity for them so soon after obviously, but that Royal Ascot will be hard to topple off top spot.
“It was great, but to have that line of progression from Desert Hero to the point where he’s going into the St Leger as one of the main chances in the race is fantastic for everyone.”
Given the expectation, Marquand will have plenty of pressure on his shoulders when he heads out onto the Doncaster turf on Saturday afternoon, but he is keen to treat it like just another race.
He said: “I’m looking forward to it, it’s a big day and an important one with pretty special circumstances, obviously. It’s great.
“Obviously we’re very appreciative to be in the situation we are going into the weekend with him, but we kind of put that to one side going into the racing scenario as it’s all insignificant unless his head lands in front in the right place.
“It doesn’t matter who owns him or who is involved or whatever if that doesn’t happen, so first and foremost the main priority is to give him the best opportunity to win that we can and after that hopefully we’ll have a bit more to worry about!
“It’s all insignificant if he doesn’t win, so there’s not much point spending time thinking about it.”
Desert Hero finished only eighth when favourite for Newbury’s London Gold Cup on his seasonal debut, but Marquand insists he was far from despondent.
He said: “He didn’t disappoint us all at Newbury. It was a mile and a quarter, it was obviously his first run of the year and things didn’t quite go to plan as I ended up making the running, so I actually came back in extremely happy with him.
“I just thought he’d been a bit slow and he’d love going up to a mile and a half and the progression from there has been massive.
“Ascot was obviously a huge performance, but he went and cemented that at Goodwood up in Stakes company and on very different ground as well.”
One question Desert Hero will have to answer is whether his stamina will last out over a mile and three-quarters, but Marquand is as hopeful as he can be the longer trip will not be an issue.
“He’s shown how appliable he is to different things and different conditions. He’s got a different trip to contend with this time, but I think it’s fair to say he’s shown the trip shouldn’t be an issue and on breeding it shouldn’t be an issue, so we’re hoping it’s not going to be,” he added.
“Until you run over it, it’s still a question mark, but I think it’s one of the question marks going into a race like this you don’t mind having. If the trip is the only problem we have then fantastic!”
Marquand knows Desert Hero will not have things all his own way, with a clutch of talented rivals lying in wait.
Frankie Dettori bids for one final Classic win before his retirement aboard Arrest, while Continuous and Gregory renew rivalry after finishing first and third in the Great Voltigeur at York last month.
Further strength in depth is added by the supplemented Middle Earth and Chesspiece, who was only a neck behind Desert Hero at Goodwood in early August.
Assessing the field, Marquand said: “It’s a race where there’s a lot of strength in it, but there’s no standout horse that needs to disappoint for something else to win. It makes it interesting.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity and I know William and the team at Somerville Lodge are thrilled they’ve found a horse like him this year for the King and Queen – it’s given everyone a huge amount of pleasure to be in this position.
“Whatever happens, they’ve done a fantastic job with him and everyone has enjoyed the ride so far.”