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Hughes pauses double century hunt to share riding wisdom

Champion jockey-elect Brian Hughes has been passing on his pearls of wisdom to a group of budding young jockeys as he continues his quest to ride 200 winners this season.

Hughes was giving out pointers at Kirklevington Riding Centre, near Yarm, on Thursday morning and the youngsters were handed the opportunity to ask the 36-year-old about his route to the top of his profession and what he had left to achieve.

Having lost the crown in a titanic battle with Harry Skelton 12 months ago, Hughes set a blistering pace from early on in the current campaign and has come home unchallenged, being almost 90 winners clear of Sam Twiston-Davies with three weeks of the season remaining.

With the title in the bag, attention has been concentrated on whether on not Hughes can reach 200 winners this term, something only Peter Scudamore, Sir Anthony McCoy and Richard Johnson have previously achieved.

“It’s been an unreal season. You’re always thinking forward in this game, never back, but I’ve been lucky because Donald McCain’s horses have been in such good form,” said Hughes at an event organised by Great British Racing.

“He’s had more winners than anyone, more than whoever is going to be champion trainer. He’s had 146 and I’ve ridden 99 of them (before racing on Thursday).

“I’m getting a bit twitchy about the 200 as there’s not much racing in April. I still need 13 and you’d think you’d do that easy, but it’s not that straightforward.

“I’ve had a couple of days recently where I thought I’d have a winner or two but I’ve come away with a couple of seconds and I’m hoping it’s achievable still – all I need is a day with three winners and it would look a lot closer. Not long ago I was consistently having five or six winners a week.

“I’m hoping I can get there as to be mentioned in the same breath as the people who have done it, Dicky (Johnson), AP (McCoy) and Peter Scudamore, they are brilliant jockeys, so it would be very special.

“Jonjo had the record when he was champion (in the north) of 149 and while records are there to be broken, this one might stand for a bit.”

Hughes has been well supported by handlers other than McCain, riding winners for over 30 different trainers, many of whom have employed his services since he first made the move to the north of England in his early 20s.

“I’ve been riding for the same people as always, Nicky Richards, Brian Ellison, Charlie Longsdon. For a lot of years I’ve always ridden for a lot of trainers, I think I’ve had winners for 32 different trainers this year,” he said.

“It would take a fair act of god for me not to be champion and winning the championship back means an awful lot.

“I don’t mind admitting it hurt losing it last year. Like anything else I felt like I’d failed because I was champion, led all the way and then Harry caught me. It didn’t make a difference it was Harry, I get on well with him, it could have been anyone.

“I said to myself I was going to give it as much as I physically could this year.

“The race with Harry was great for the public, especially as for all those years AP had it sewn up by August or September. I loved the battle, but coming off second best wasn’t a nice feeling.

“While I’ve been in front a long time this season, it never felt over to me because if you feel like that you get complacent. I went out to every race this season with the mentality that I was five winners behind. When you change your mindset you start doing things differently. I’ve never wanted to do anything with flair, just be consistent.

“Next year I’ll still be every bit as committed to do it all again and I will be for as long as the trainers want me and if I feel I’m riding as well as ever. I’ll know, because I’m very critical of myself – I don’t need members of the press to tell me!”

Brian Hughes passes on his expertise
Brian Hughes passes on his expertise (Nick Robson/PA)

It is fair to say Hughes’ career has been a slow-burner, but he is well and truly at the top of the tree now, however, he did not have one ride at the recent Cheltenham Festival.

“I wasn’t a spectacular apprentice, I didn’t go riding over jumps until I was 20/21 and I’m 37 in June, so it’s been a slow process but I don’t think that’s a bad thing as it allows you to develop,” said Hughes, who has ridden more winners than any other active National Hunt jockey.

“I didn’t miss Cheltenham by choice, I didn’t have a ride. I was going down there to ride a 100-1 shot, it’s like lining up on the grid for a Formula One race in a go-kart.

“It’s important for the trainers and owners I ride for, who are northern-based, to have winners at Aintree and Ayr, that’s where they want to go.

“It will be competitive at Ayr and Aintree but we’re hopefully going with good chances.”

This weekend is Ayr’s Scottish National meeting followed hot on its heels by Aintree, but again his name could be missing from the big race.

“I ride Innisfree Lad in the Scottish National and he’d have an each-way chance. I was third on him in the Borders National and he’s been third in an Eider. If there’s a better handicapped one he might struggle, but he’s got an each-way chance,” said Hughes.

“Grey Skies will have a good chance on Friday, I’m looking forward to him and Minella Drama runs on Saturday and he’s been a good horse for us.

“We’ve a few nice ones for Aintree, Mackenberg is going to switch back over hurdles as even though he’s three form three over fences, he’s rated 10lb lower over hurdles.

“We think a lot of Gaelik Coast, he ran well on Trials Day at Cheltenham but didn’t get home, so we’ll drop him in trip and I think he’ll go for the Red Rum Handicap and A Different Kind is another who ran well on Trials Day, hopefully he can go well.

“I’ve nothing in the National at the minute. And don’t get me wrong, if a good ride came up I’d take it but no one is going to get off a good horse.”

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