Brian Hughes moved to within one of the magical 200-winner mark for the season after riding a first and last race double at Sedgefield.
Fresh from booting home his 197th winner at Fakenham on Easter Monday, the 36-year-old headed north with a strong book of five rides in his bid to become only the fourth jump jockey to ride a double century in a single campaign.
Having ridden almost twice as many winners at Sedgefield than at any other track this season, Hughes will have had high hopes of getting the job done in County Durham.
But while he got the afternoon off to a flier aboard Gold Miner and ended the day with success aboard the prohibitively-priced Imperial Merlin, he was out of luck on his other three rides, meaning he remains one short of the landmark with four days of the season remaining.
The Brian Ellison-trained Gold Miner was the 11-10 favourite for the opening Cazoo Maiden Hurdle and dominated from flag-fall – passing the post with two and a half lengths in hand.
Ellison said: “He’s a grand horse who jumps well and really he’s crying out for fences. He’s getting on a bit and I wouldn’t want to keep running on that ground, but he does want to go chasing.”
The Malton-based trainer hopes Hughes can join Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Peter Scudamore in the 200 club before the season concludes at Sandown on Saturday, adding: “It’s very hard to ride 200 winners, but Brian deserves it as he goes everywhere and he’s at it seven days a week.”
After finishing third on Costly Diamond, second on Spiritofthenorth and pulling up Punta Prima, Hughes jumped aboard John Quinn’s Imperial Merlin for the concluding bumper.
Runner-up on his racecourse debut at Wetherby four weeks ago, the five-year-old comfortably went one better as the 30-100 favourite.
Hughes said: “I was kind of hoping that would be the 200th, but it’s not. He’s a nice horse and he’ll be a nice horse for next year.
“I’ve ridden winners for 33 different trainers and I’m very lucky I’ve got a lot of good owners and trainers supporting me.
“I must mention all the the staff in the yards, who are producing these horses. I always feel the stable staff don’t get enough credit and without them, you’d struggle to have the horses to ride.
“I’m just grateful for all the support I’ve had.”
The Northern Irishman’s quest now moves to Perth where he has five booked rides on Wednesday and another five on Thursday.
Hughes will also be in action at the Scottish track on Friday before on Saturday heading to Sandown, where he will be officially crowned champion jockey for the second time.
He added: “I think I’ll have 15 rides over the three days (at Perth), so please God something comes home in front.”
Dianne Sayer’s The Navigator (2-1) secured his third victory at Sedgefield in the Cazoo Search Drive Smile Handicap Hurdle, while Tim Easterby’s Cilluirid (9-2) made it four course wins in the Join Our Bet Club At vickers.bet Handicap Chase.
Sayer said of her winner: “He got the fast pace and the good ground and it all worked out well for him.
“He likes Sedgefield – he has a lot of confidence coming here.
“Musselburgh was really his big aim of the season and it’s fabulous to have him back winning again.”
First Revolution broke his duck at the 22nd attempt in the Vickers Bet Handicap Chase.
Given a confident ride by Craig Nichol, the 9-2 chance cruised into contention rounding the home turn and found enough from the final fence to score by a length and a quarter from Ar Mest.
Nichol was riding his 40th winner of the season, but it has been a more difficult campaign for trainer Martin Todhunter, with this just his fourth success.
He said: “It’s the worst season I’ve ever had. There’s been a few things and it’s just the way it’s gone, but hopefully it will pick up again.
“We just need a good horse. We had a problem with the feed and sorted that out. We’ve got some nice young horses coming through and some nice owners,so we’ll keep tipping away.”