James Doyle flippantly once said that he had looked into a plumbing course when the rides dried up for two seasons a few years ago.
In truth, he was never really about to work out the machinations of a U-bend, the remark simply to highlight the past struggles he’d had back then of getting in the saddle and the potential career crossroads he was facing.
“I was earning just enough money to pay my mortgage and pay to run my car, and not much else,” he recalled. “And when I won at, say, Carlisle after a five-hour drive I was left wondering if it was worth the financial stress.”
So, at the beginning of the 2011 campaign Doyle gave himself one last season before pondering his career options plumbing or otherwise, one that has ultimately paid off, most notably with victory on Big Orange at the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot a year ago.
And those turning points in his career have come with a modicum of luck, he admits, the first the decision in 2011 by trainer Roger Charlton to get him on board, the second the ride on Big Orange only coming 48 hours before last year’s race as a result of an injury to original jockey Frankie Dettori.
On the eve of this year’s Royal Ascot with a prize pot of £7.3million on offer, Doyle recalled: “It’s a difficult one because I know how important Royal Ascot is to Frankie, so that must have been heartbreaking for him, and he’s great friends with the owners.
“But I think he took the attitude that he would rather Big Orange won than anyone else, and he told me how to ride the horse.”
In effect, Dettori’s advice was simply not to interfere with his mount and let him ride his own race. After initially holding him back, Doyle let him move to the front, where he edged past the winning post with his nose in front despite an epic late charge by Order of St George.
“He just pricked his ears back and went for it and, while everyone said it was a close finish, I knew we’d won the moment we crossed the line,” added Doyle.
The 30-year-old makes no secret of the fact that it is the pinnacle of a career, which has included a litany of high-profile Group 1 winners, likening Royal Ascot to the Olympics of horse racing.
And it is only one way in which Royal Ascot has defined him, a festival of racing where he could not ride a single winner until 2013 when he rode three in a pulsating hour and a half to win the Prince of Wales’ Stakes, the Royal Hunt Cup and the Queen Mary Stakes.
“It’s the best race meeting out there and it’s been very good to me,” he said. “I’d take a similar year to last year or 2013, definitely.”
The drive for further success stems from the darker days for Doyle, whose mother is a trainer and sister Sophie a jockey in the US, times he says that have enabled him to feel he can tackle anything.
But he also admits to something of an addiction.
“If you’d told me I’d win the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot a few years ago, I’d have taken that for my career,” he said, “but when you get a big winner like that, the more you want it again.
“You get greedy, you get addicted to it, and the more successful you are, the more successful you want to be. I want more at Royal Ascot.”
Royal Ascot from 19th – 23rd June features eight QIPCO British Champions Series races. For more information visit britishchampionsseries.com/