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Hughes has 200 in his sights as winners continue to flow

Brian Hughes continued his relentless march towards being crowned champion jockey for a second time with victory aboard The Big Jetaway in the feature race at Sedgefield on Wednesday.

The County Armagh-born rider became the first northern-based jockey to hit 150 winners in a season after a Monday four-timer at Carlisle, beating Jonjo O’Neill’s best tally of 149.

“It was good to get to 150. I thought we’d get it a couple of times in the past, but I got injured in the last month of the season when I was well into the 140s,” said Hughes.

“It’s not a massive record when you see what AP (McCoy) and Dickie (Johnson) have done, but it’s the most anyone’s ridden in the north, so it’s something small I can maybe keep.

“Jonjo actually texted me and said ‘why has it taken so long’? It was something nice to do and hopefully we’re not done yet and can keep motoring on.”

With reigning champion Harry Skelton and Sam Twiston-Davies both in the 80s, Hughes is all but certain to regain the crown he lifted two seasons ago, while he is odds-on to become only the fourth National Hunt jockey to get to 200 winners after Peter Scudamore, Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson.

“Richard (Hale, agent) is revved and it would be great to do it. We need to stay fit and healthy and the horses need to stay in the same form,” the jockey added.

“We’ll try our best. My trainers have given me a lot of support, as has my agent, so fingers crossed.

“If it happens it would be brilliant and it if doesn’t, we’ve had a good year anyway.”

After finishing third in a maiden hurdle at Wetherby three and a half weeks ago, the Donald McCain-trained The Big Jetaway was the 6-4 favourite for his chasing debut under Rules in County Durham.

Despite jumping markedly right throughout, Itsalonglongroad gave a bold sight in front for much of the vickers.bet Handicap Chase, but Hughes’ mount came through to prevail by four and a half lengths.

Hughes said: “He’s very big for running round here and it’s his first season, so he’s still a little bit legs everywhere and stumbled both times on the top bend.

“It wasn’t a great race, but he’s got it done and hopefully on a fairer track he can improve a bit.”

Itsalonglongroad’s trainer John McConnell had earlier seen his Drumbear land prohibitive odds of 1-20 in the Cazoo Novices’ Hurdle.

A 10-length winner at Musselburgh early in the new year before finishing third at Down Royal, John McConnell’s runner was sent back across the Irish Sea for what appeared a straightforward assignment.

Sean Bowen’s mount quickly built up a big advantage over his three toiling rivals and barely had to come out of first gear to score by 24 lengths from rank outsider Joanna I’m Fine.

“That was horrible,” said Bowen.

“I’d ridden him in a bumper and he’s a pretty strong horse who can be keen and hang right and left. He kinds of works against you rather than with you.

“He was 1-20 and he got the job done, but it was hard work for me if not for him.”

Bowen’s father Peter and brother James later combined to win the Cazoo Search Drive Smile Handicap Chase 2-1 favourite Getastar.

James Bowen doubled up aboard Brian Ellison’s Leeswood Lily (7-2), who notched her second successive course and distance win in the Free Tips Daily On attheraces.com Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

Royle Steel was a surprise winner of the opening race
Royle Steel was a surprise winner of the opening race (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Royle Steel was a shock 80-1 winner of the Visit attheraces.com Maiden Hurdle.

Although not disgraced on his bumper debut at Doncaster in November, the four-year-old finished a long way behind stablemate Bonne Vitesse when fifth on his first start over hurdles at Wetherby last month.

But given a patient ride by Alain Cawley, Micky Hammond’s charge could be spotted making eyecatching headway halfway up the straight and finished to good effect to score by three-quarters of a length.

Hammond said: “He ran really well on his debut, but over-raced a little bit, then we went to Wetherby for his first run over hurdles and he didn’t settle and was keen.

“We said we’d wait until the spring for better ground, but obviously the weather has been so dry and spring has come early. I think Christmas has come early as well with him winning today!”

The Susan Corbett-trained Atomic Angel was a 15-2 winner of the Sky Sports Racing Virgin 535 Handicap Hurdle under Sam Coltherd, while Demi Sang justified 2-1 favouritism in the Subscribe To AtTheRaces On YouTube Handicap Hurdle for Sara Ender and 7lb claimer Jack Hogan.

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