The Champion Jockey Stakes 2012

Hanagan+Hughes -2011+2012 top jock?

With the turf flat season starting at Doncaster on Saturday where the Lincoln Handicap tops the bill, there will be more than 3,500 races on which we can win or lose a few pennies before the season ends with the November Handicap, again at Doncaster. So maybe we should have a small bet on what is realistically a five runner field, and in which they could all still be in contention as they go into the last furlong after the Autumn Double of the Cambridgeshire and the Cesarewitch.

There’s been a fair bit of movement over the winter, with several jockeys changing stables, so let’s remind ourselves of those as we set out the riders in the 2012 Champion Jockey Stakes.

Ryan Moore: 4/1 The Ryan Moore/Michael Stoute partnership is one of considerable longevity, and Stoute’s horses were a major factor behind Moore’s title successes in 2006, 2008 and 2009. Born into racing – his father is trainer Gary, and jump jockey Jamie is his younger brother – it’s no surprise that he seems to have been around for ages, though he’s only 28 years old now. Moore has been the market leader in this contest in each of the last five seasons. A poor 2011 season for Stoute was the main reason he wasn’t able to clock up 100 winners last year, though he was also sidelined for several weeks with a broken arm.

Richard Hughes: 4/1 Hughes is never short of rides, and with his trainer Richard Hannon always ready with a stream of early 2yo horses, we can expect Hughes to be one of the first out of the stalls. Indeed, Hannon’s stable provided 68% of the 130 winners Hughes rode last season, and the combination is sure to have another good year. His total of 130 was 35 behind champion Paul Hanagan last year, and whilst the latter is likely to have substantially fewer rides this year, Hughes won’t. It’s this that gives Hughes his best opportunity of a first championship.

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Sylvestre de Sousa: 5/1 De Sousa has had a major promotion for this year with his transfer to the Godolphin string. But that takes him out of the position he has recently held of first choice jockey (to Mark Johnston) to that of squad player, with Frankie Dettori still the first name on that particular team sheet. It’s not difficult to see him maintaining his strike rate of 16%, but that is sure to be from a smaller book of rides, and it is this that threatens his chance of coming out on top.

Kieren Fallon: 5/1 In the two full years since Fallon returned from his ban the six times champion has proved he is as good as ever, riding nearly 300 winners in that time. And all done without a stable retainer. But as a freelance, Fallon is heavily dependent on an effective agent to book his rides, and Fallon is notoriously difficult to satisfy on this score. Earlier this month he sacked Terry Norman from the role just 10 months after he had taken over from previous agent Gareth Owen. Fallon will be lucky to find a third person to look after his interests so well and has to be discounted. He should be a bigger price in my view.

Paul Hanagan: 6/1 Last year Paul Hanagan rode more winners than anyone else, but he also had over 100 rides more than de Sousa, his closest rival. So the current champion is the outsider in our jockeys’ title race. Like de Sousa, he has forsaken the North of England for a berth in Newmarket as first jockey on Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s horses. That will mean a substantial reduction in the number of rides he has this year, and even if like de Sousa, Hanagan is able to keep up his strike rate of last season (15%), that will significantly damage his chances.

I think the bookies have it right in putting Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore at the head of the market. This year they both have continuity in their arrangements, whereas their three rivals all have major upheavals to overcome. Had Ryan Moore not been injured last year he would certainly have finished with well over 100 winners, and it’s unlikely that Michael Stoute will have such a quiet season again.

There’s little to choose between them on strike rate (Hughes 18%, Moore 19%). But Richard Hannon has been champion trainer in both 2010 and 2011 and I can see no reason why he shouldn’t notch up a hat-trick. On that basis, son-in-law Richard Hughes should have another successful season that ends with him the champion jockey for the first time.

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