Champion jockey by a street… but not a SINGLE ride at Cheltenham! Brian Hughes can FINALLY get the credit he deserves as he edges towards 200 winners in a single season
- Brian Hughes is closing in on joining a prestigious club of 200 season winners
- Hughes would be joining iconic jump jockeys such as Sir Anthony McCoy
- He is reluctant to get complacent despite being so dominant so far this season
Brian Hughes stands on the verge of a major milestone and what keeps motivating him is what happened 12 months ago.
The 36-year-old needs 13 more winners to join jump jockey icons Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Peter Scudamore in reaching 200 winners in a season.
It is rarefied company for the man from County Armagh motivated to become a jockey by fellow Northern Irishmen McCoy, Richard Dunwoody and Tony Dobbin.
Brian Hughes is racing towards taking 200 winners in a season to join a prestigious group
But it is not making history that is driving Hughes. It is the pain of last season when as defending champion he led until the final few weeks only to be overhauled by Harry Skelton. At the end of January, Hughes led Skelton by 21 wins. He ended up being beaten by 10 (152-142).
‘It hurt a lot,’ said Hughes. ‘I led all the way and got chinned in the last month. When you have been champion jockey once you want to be champion jockey twice.
‘I didn’t ride enough winners but I have no regrets because I didn’t think I should have done anything differently. It was just the way the cards fell. I just didn’t want it to happen again.’
Hughes has made sure it won’t in emphatic fashion. With the season ending at Sandown on April 23, Hughes is 90 winners clear of second-placed Skelton.
It is in the bag but Hughes refuses to drop the tempo of a season in which he has had more than 850 rides with the accelerator flat to the floor for 11 months.
‘I am still not champion jockey,’ he said. ‘Harry Skelton is for another four weeks.
‘I say to my agent I go out every day like I am five winners behind. When you start changing things you start making mistakes.’
For all the success Hughes remains relatively unheralded. He dominates the northern circuit — 30 of his wins have come at his local track Sedgefield — and only a handful of his winners come at courses south of the River Trent.
Pictured riding Snow Leopardess back in November, Hughes has been a class above his rivals
Trainer Donald McCain, whose resurgence gives Hughes as much pleasure as his own success, has supplied 99 of his wins.
Remarkably Hughes didn’t have a single ride at the Cheltenham Festival – he rode at Hexham, Fakenham and Sedgefield that week – and does not expect to ride in the Grand National on April 9.
Hughes said: ‘Everyone would love to go to the big meetings and have good rides, but going to a meeting to ride a 100-1 shot doesn’t float my boat.
‘My stables don’t have those horses and I don’t have a right to ride those horses in other stables. There are people who have ridden them all the time — that’s their job.’
When Hughes won his first title in the 2019-20 season, Covid-19 struck and racing shut down. He missed out on being presented with his trophy at a packed Sandown and walking through a guard of honour of his fellow jockeys.
Yet he is reluctant to get carried away until he is crowned champion jockey (pic: March 2022)
He will get it this time surrounded by his family including wife Luci and children Rory and Olivia. Hughes has five sisters, two of whom will travel from Australia and Canada to join the celebrations.
‘My wife, my kids, my family and my wife’s family will get a great kick out of it,’ said Hughes. ‘I will do, too, but that is not what the whole thing has been for. I don’t crave accolades or fanfare.
‘I don’t need people to tell me ‘That was brilliant’. You know if a job is well done. You get satisfaction and that is good enough for me.’