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McCain enthralled with Hughes’ ‘David and Goliath’ title task

Donald McCain has described this season’s neck-and-neck jockeys’ title race as a battle which has taken on “David and Goliath” proportions – with reigning champion Brian Hughes currently cast in the giant-killing role.

Hughes closed the gap behind Skelton to just two again when he and McCain’s Bannixtown Glory fought off his rival on Eglantine Du Seuil by three-quarters of a length in the Citipost Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Cheshire trainer McCain said: “It’s good to be involved and part of it, and it’s all very civilised.”

He nonetheless senses the extra firepower available to Skelton could be key – especially with multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls supplying an increasing number of winning opportunities in the final weeks of the season, with his stable jockey Harry Cobden out injured.

He said: “We are lucky to have some lovely horses that do the job right – but when they wheel Paul Nicholls in it is like David and Goliath.

“We remember watching (Richard) Dunwoody and Adrian Maguire in their battle that went all the way (in the 1990s) – but with this it does look as if things are falling in favour of Harry.

“Brian will probably come off the wrong end of it, but we will keep kicking.”

Of his 9-1 winner, McCain added: “This is a lovely tough little filly, but I was a bit surprised turning in that there was nothing going behind her.

Hughes said: “She was a Listed winner over three miles at Kempton Park. She stays well, but was getting a bit lonely up the straight.

“It’s good to have another winner here. I won’t give up, and will keep chipping away.”

Coral trimmed Hughes to 5-2 (from 3-1) for championship, and eased Skelton to 1-4 (from 1-5).

“Although Harry Skelton remains a hot favourite to win a first NH jockeys’ title, Brian Hughes has closed the gap with a winner at Cheltenham, and the battle now heads to Ayr, familiar turf for the reigning champion,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

Harry Skelton continues to gather title momentum

Harry Skelton drew stumps with a three-winner advantage over Brian Hughes in their electric title-race battle after both enjoyed victories at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Skelton teamed up with brother Dan for the victories of Faivoir and Proschema, while reigning champion Hughes posted a single success on Domaine De L’Isle.

While Skelton can rely on the full support of his sibling to provide his mounts in the remaining nine days, Hughes will cast his net far and wide, as he did for his latest scorer, who is trained near Swindon by Sean Curran.

Skelton said: “Harry is three clear, but the worst hope is false hope, and there’s no point thinking you have won.

Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form
Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form (David Davies/PA)

“Yesterday was a big day for Harry (rode three winners at Southwell), especially after we drew a blank on Monday, when I thought we had some serious chances.

“But Harry will have a ride in every race from now until the end of the season. While it’s no big deal for Harry to have a double at Stratford or Warwick, Brian is used to riding six or seven every day, and he and his team will get winners.”

The Skelton team first struck gold with Faivoir (4-6 favourite), who registered his fifth victory of the campaign in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Hurdle.

“This horse has been on the go since the first Cheltenham meeting in October and was left in front a long way out, which made it more difficult,” said his trainer.

“I had it in mind to go chasing with him straight away, but now we just might have a rethink.

“We would have gone straight in over two and a half miles, but the way he races he is going to be versatile distance-wise.”

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Little over an hour late the Skeltons doubled up with Proschema in the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-2 joint-favourite powered to the front approaching the final flight and pulled six and a half lengths clear of Winds Of Fire.

Skelton added: “The ground was way too soft for him when he ran in the Greatwood Hurdle here in November.

“Today was the first time we’d stretched him out in trip, and it’s all come together, although it’s taken a while for it to happen.

“The ground is vitally important and we will now go for a race over two miles and six furlongs at Haydock on Swinton Hurdle day.”

Hughes might have had luck on his side on Domaine De L’Isle in the Weatherite Handicap Chase, as The Mighty Don was showing no signs of stopping when hitting the second-last fence.

That error caused jockey James Davies to defy gravity by toppling onto Sam Twiston-Davies on Coo Star Sivola, who courteously helped him remain the plate.

As the Sean Curran-trained Domaine De L’Isle went on to score by a length and a half, Davies managed to complete the course on The Mighty Don, but in fifth place.

Hughes, conceding the emphasis was with Skelton, said: “James’ horse drifted onto my path and then back into Sam, who saved the day.

“I rode this horse two years ago at Newcastle and won on him at Ascot. He then lost his form, but Sean’s got him back with a wind job.”

On the title race, he added: “Winners round here are hard to find for northern jockeys.

“The advantage is with Harry, but it’s not over yet.”

Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor
Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

Manofthemountain is a name to conjure with through the summer and next autumn following his smooth-as-silk delivery in the Ballymore Silver Trophy Limited Handicap Chase.

The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding travelled like a dream for Tom Bellamy and readily put the race to bed between the final two fences, scoring by four and a half lengths and a length and a half from Magic Saint and Romain De Senam.

Sporting the Limato colours of Paul Jacobs, the 8-1 winner could have the Paddy Power Gold Cup back here in November as a major objective.

Lavelle explained: “He’d had a break going into his previous race at Kempton and just took a blow at the second-last. The ground is probably the key to him, and I’m happy that we’ve found a distance (two and a half miles) where he should be.

“Paul is one of racing’s greatest enthusiasts and likes to plot a route. The Summer Plate at Market Rasen is an option, but the big target is to come back here in the autumn (for the Paddy Power).”

Oliver Sherwood was among the winners
Oliver Sherwood was among the winners (Simon Cooper/PA)

Oliver Sherwood attributed the addition of blinkers to Jersey Bean’s game front-running success under Brendan Powell in the Arkells Brewery Nicholson Holman Novices’ Handicap Chase.

After the 4-1 chance scored by six and a half lengths from Accordingtogino, Sherwood said: “He loved that ground but will now have a holiday.

“I’ve got to thank Henrietta Knight because his jumping was average and after a week’s school with her she suggested blinkers.

“He will get further, and we should have some fun with him next year.”

Local trainer Fergal O’Brien got to within two of the century mark for the season, while conditional Liam Harrison had his claim cut to 5lb courtesy of Ask Dillon’s triumph in the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Handicap Hurdle.

Harrison said: “A few of them going a good gallop suited us, and my horse travelled on that decent ground. He’s done plenty of schooling over fences, which is the direction he’ll be heading next season.”

The Nicky Henderson-trained Hooper successfully stepped into handicap company to take the Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle under Ben Ffrench Davis.

Harry Skelton seizes jockeys’ title lead with Southwell treble

Harry Skelton’s title hopes were boosted by a Southwell treble that left him two wins ahead of Brian Hughes in the jump jockeys’ championship.

Skelton was trailing his rival by one ahead of the card, but his full book of rides produced three victories while Hughes drew a blank.

Fidelio Vallis took the opening contest for Skelton and Paul Nicholls, drawing 11 lengths clear of his nearest challenger to justify a starting price of 30-100.

The second leg of Skelton’s treble was then provided by Caroline Bailey’s Just A Deal, who was a runaway winner of the second division of the Join Southwell Golf Club Handicap Hurdle after finishing second in a similar contest last time out.

The six-year-old started as 15-8 favourite and was unchallenged when cruising to a 19-length victory – providing Skelton with his 138th success of the season.

“He’s done really well,” Skelton told Sky Sports Racing.

“The last day we just bumped into one. I rode him with a bit more room today, he jumped well and stayed on really well.

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“Caroline said ‘don’t be afraid to just get him rolling, because all he does is gallop’.

“He’s fairly inexperienced, but he’s going the right way.”

Skelton and Bailey teamed up again to take the last the race on the card as Begin The Luck obliged at 5-1 and left the jockey holding a narrow lead with 11 days of the season to go.

“The support I’m getting is fantastic,” he said.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has chipped in to help me get this far, hopefully now we can just keep pushing.

“It’s a long way to go and a lot of things can happen, but I’ve got good people around me.”

Skelton is the 1-5 favourite with both Coral and Ladbrokes to be crowned top jockey.

Elsewhere on the card, the first division of the Join Southwell Golf Club Handicap Hurdle went the way of Go Chique for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville, with the five-year-old mare passing the post three and three-quarter lengths ahead of her nearest rival to land a 15-2 success.

“She was really good,” De Boinville said.

“She won her bumper here and she’s been progressing nicely. She really appreciates top of the ground and a step up to three miles helped as well.”

William Of Orange then claimed his 10th career success when winning the On Track Off Course: racingwelfare.co.uk/podcast Handicap Chase for conditional jockey Joe Williamson and trainer Mark Walford.

The 10-year-old was triumphant at Catterick in March under the same rider and seemed to bounce back from his subsequent well-beaten effort at Sedgefield to prevail again at 15-2.

“He’s class really, he’s old enough now and he knows the ropes,” Williamson said.

“Everything possibly just happened a bit quick the last day at Sedgefield and he just got caught a bit off his speed, but there was a bit more give in the ground today which suited him and he’s done it nicely again.

“It’s great to get another winner for Mark Walford, who’s given me plenty of support this season.”

The Donate To Racing Welfare Online Maiden Hurdle then went the way of Paul Webbers Pawpaw, who was steered to a four-and-three-quarter-length success at 17-2 by Ciaran Gethings.

“He gave me a great feel, I spoke to Richie (McLernon, who rode last time) on the way here and he filled me full of confidence,” Gethings said.

“It was very smooth, really, he jumped and travelled well.”

Harry Skelton fires Hereford four-timer to narrow title gap

Harry Skelton kept up his title chase with a four-timer at Hereford on Wednesday.

Skelton started the day nine winners behind Brian Hughes and four in front of third-placed Harry Cobden, and he was quick off the mark aboard Real Stone in the opening Central Roofing Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by his brother Dan, Skelton is unlikely to enjoy an many easier winners as the 1-10 favourite dismissed his two rivals without coming out of second gear, cantering home 91 lengths clear of Harlow, with Rogue Male a further nine lengths back in third.

Skelton said: “Although the ground was a bit dead on top, it was fine. It’s always great to get a winner here at Hereford – it’s been a lucky course for me and that’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Skelton returns to the winner's enclosure aboard Ambassador
Skelton returns to the winner’s enclosure aboard Ambassador (PA)

The Skelton team soon made it a double as another favourite, 2-1 chance Ambassador, proved a length too good for Kamaxos in the Central Roofing Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.

Unplaced in five runs on the Flat for Richard Fahey, Ambassador was making it fourth time lucky over obstacles for current connections after undergoing wind surgery since his last start.

The winning rider said: “The wind operation has helped him. He was quite keen and fresh, but he enjoyed the track and better ground.

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“He’s a proper Flat horse – strong and not over big – and he loved the going.”

Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony
Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony (PA)

Global Harmony then made it a hat-trick for the Skeltons in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-4 shot was making her handicap debut and despite a mistake at the last, she kept on for a two-and-three-quarter-length verdict.

Stylish Dancer (13-2) then rounded off a fabulous day with victory in the closing Central Roofing Handicap Hurdle.

With Hughes out of luck at Haydock and Cobden failing to strike at Hereford, Skelton was thrilled to have strengthened his championship position.

He added: “I’m delighted to have narrowed the gap with Brian – it’s been a great afternoon. The horses are just in such great form generally, and happily they all seem to be enjoying the ground.”

James Bowen also got in on the riding act, initiating a double aboard To Be Sure (11-4) in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Evan Williams’ charge kept finding a bit extra after jumping the last to reel in the Skelton’s 2-1 favourite Headfullofdreams and win by half a length.

Bowen said: “It took a while for my lad to warm to his task as he wasn’t letting himself down in the early stages and the ground is quick out there.

“Overall he jumped really well and I would like to thank Evan for the ride – he’s been good to me.

“I feel like I’m riding well at the moment and I hope I can keep the strike-rate up.”

James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon
James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon (PA)

Bowen then added to his tally aboard the Toby Lawes-trained Pottlereaghexpress (10-11 favourite) in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Chase.

Lawes, who was also on the mark with Kap Auteuil at Market Rasen, said: “Plan A was to get her head in front after a few near-misses and that’s been achieved.

“She’s a bonny little filly, well put together and I think she’s only once ever been out of the frame.

“I’m pleased for James and the general aim is to build with our team, which includes a number of young horses with bags of potential.”

Beau Haze sprang a 20-1 shock for trainer Philip Dando and jockey Conor Ring in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

No Drama for Minella in Sidney Banks success

Minella Drama got back on the winning trail with an authoritative display in the Ballymore Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle at Market Rasen.

Transferred from its traditional home of Huntingdon following the abandonment of the track’s fixture earlier in the month, the Listed contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with last year’s winner Shishkin going on to win the Supreme at Cheltenham on his next start.

The Donald McCain-trained Minella Drama was the 13-8 favourite in a five-runner field under champion jockey Brian Hughes, having come up narrowly short in his bid for a third straight victory in the Grade Two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock four weeks ago.

Fitted with a hood for the first time, the six-year-old travelled strongly on the heels of the pacesetting Optimise Prime for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, before taking over between the final two flights.

An untidy leap at the last obstacle gave the closing Stoner’s Choice a sniff of success, but Minella Drama had plenty up his sleeve as he passed the post three lengths to the good.

Hughes said: “He’s always been a nice horse, his form’s been solid, you’d have to say. Every run he’s had has stacked up well. The horses he’s beat or that have beaten him have all come out and won and have got good ratings now.

“He’s a nice horse, he’s obviously progressing with every run. He’ll make a nice chaser in time.

“It was only suiting us to run him over two miles because the right races were there. As you can see, he does stay this trip and I dare say he might get three miles in time. We’ll take one step at a time, it’s a nice stepping stone.

“The horse that beat him the first day (Llandinabo Lad) won a Listed race and then the horse that was 12 lengths behind him at Bangor (Ballybegg) has won two since, and we were giving him 7lb. His form is solid.”

Minella Drama is not entered at Cheltenham and when Hughes was asked about the possibility of running at Aintree, he replied: “You’ll have to speak to Mr McCain and the owner about that.

“I just ride them, I don’t place them.”

Trainer Profiles: Nicky Richards

Trainer Profiles: Nicky Richards

It’s time for another edition of trainer profiles and, for this one, I’ve opted to run the rule over the Cumbrian operation headed by Nicky Richards.

There are two key motivating factors in selecting Richards for a bit of the data treatment. Firstly, it’s not a yard I have especially followed, and I enjoy the educational journey that penning these articles delivers: the discovery of new insight and information is the fun element of compiling these pieces. Secondly, and far more importantly, it’s a results thing. The stable has generally strong and consistent performance over time, which is a solid foundation for deeper analysis. Let’s begin.

Here is an unedited, unfiltered view of all the yards runners from 2011 at SP in UK National Hunt racing (up to and including 5th Feb 2021)

 

That’s a very impressive set of numbers. I’d speculate that, based on these data, if you were farming the bookies’ offers of best odds guaranteed, backing all runners from the stable you’d be at worst broadly breaking even. Not a bad starter for ten.

Nicky Richards: Performance vs. the Market

As is now tradition (if three events can be counted as tradition) we will commence with a market check to obtain a general feel for the yard, which I’ve found to be a reliable starting point in the construction of a trainer profile.

The table below contains all of Richards’ runners for just over the last ten years, grouped by starting price.

 

 

As might be expected, there is a healthy look to the picture, with the probable exception of those sent off at 22/1 or longer. Three winners from 228 runners at these prices is cause enough to avoid almost at all costs. That said, one does need to be a little careful in ranges where a single winner can significantly impact the overall view. Even so, not for me in data terms, given that just one of the 81 horses priced 50/1 or bigger made the frame.

Meanwhile, at the sharper end, there is a strong impression that broad value exists in the 5/2 to 20/1 price range. This implies a slight but consistent underestimation of the stable within the market where perhaps the form claims are not overtly obvious. That’s far from an endorsement or recommendation to get involved indiscriminately, however.

Here are the data represented graphically, displayed by A/E which assists in painting a picture of where general value may exist.

 

After further rummaging, there wasn’t a lot more to get excited about within this area (that I found, anyway). Therefore, the message is a broad one, in that there is value in following Richards when paying particular attention to those priced in the 5/2 to 20/1 ranges.

Despite this, for the rest of this article I’m going to only consider runners with an SP of 14/1 or shorter, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Yes, the graph and data does show potential value up to 20/1. However, between 16s and 20s, a strike rate of 5.9% (13/222) isn’t enough to insure me against the dreaded losing runs in spite of the potential long-term profit. It’s a personal choice and you have to be geared up for feast and famine at that end of the market: I’m not especially.

Nicky Richards: Seasonal Performance

As is often the case with National Hunt yards, performance can vary throughout the year and it’s something which can be seen from Team Richards, as the table below illustrates.

 

In relative terms at least, the numbers put up during the summer jumps season are a pale shadow of the rest of the year. They’re not terrible, far from it, but it would appear that the summer season is not a major focus for the yard. The below graph shows the same data through the prism of A/E and clearly illustrates the dip.

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Catching the yard from December to March appears to be optimal in rough terms.

Digging further, I’ve mentioned before that seasonal performance and underfoot conditions often go hand in hand. Given that the A/E numbers have a slight dip during the summer it could generally be expected that the overall performance is less positive on firmer ground, a condition more prevalent at that time of year.

 

Exactly as expected, the insight on Good and Good to Firm are strikingly below those for going on the softer side with clear variance across strike rates, P&L, A/E and even place percentages.

It’s of specific interest to try and establish whether softer ground runners in summer do comparatively well against those running on ground more typical of the warmer months, and vice versa (firmer ground performance in winter).

 

The above line graph splits the data by underfoot conditions and month. By way of explanation the dotted grey line represents the overall data for the yard in terms of A/E (same data as the graph at the start of this section). The blue line shows A/E performance for stable runners on Good to Soft, Soft and Heavy ground conditions. The sunny orange line contains A/E info for Good and Good to Firm runs.

It reveals that, generally, the yard out turns better numbers when the going is on the softer side irrespective of the time of year. It also at least hints towards an assertion that there might well be some sort of edge backing Richards runners during the summer jumps season when the going is more winter like (June still moderate). In fact, A/E performance peaks in July on the wetter going across all data sets. Granted, this only relates to 12 runs, but it does demonstrate potential value can still be attained in summer, despite the higher-level data pointing in another direction.

Of course, there is no categorical rule; none of this info should mean back or laying blindly, life is always more nuanced than that. However, by gaining an understanding of these elements a general sharpening of the punting process can be attained.

For example, to convince me to part with my cash on a Richards summer jumper on Good or Good to Firm ground I’d want the horse to tick virtually every other box available and show significant superiority over the rest of the field. In such cases, there would very likely be no juice in the price as the horse’s chance would be so obvious.

On softer ground I’d show more leniency with regards to the form in the book. Naturally, we will still be wrong a lot more often than right, but by using data to find value we can ensure our winners pay for a lot more losers!

 

Nicky Richards: Seasonal performance by race type

Another notable aspect where the seasonal performance can be seen is with National Hunt Flat races. The first port of call is to evaluate accomplishments by the different types of National Hunt discipline to ascertain how data in bumpers holds up against the other race types.

 

It’s clear, and very much like Fergal O’Brien from my last article, that Richards is a trainer to follow when no obstacles are in play. It may be enough to leave it there, however, the seasonal factor is again well demonstrated focusing on this race category alone.

 

The above table shows the rhythm of the stable regarding its bumper runners. From May to September there are two wins from 23 runs. However, performance through the winter is exemplary. If this table is representative of the future, then March will be a good time to get on board with a strike rate of very nearly a third since January 2011.

 

 

Nicky Richards: Performance by Racecourse

There is little doubt that Richards is a leading light of the northern racing circuit. A perusal of his runners by UK region confirms that beyond all reasonable doubt.

 

This yard, based in Cumbria, thirty miles from the Scottish border, has saddled just under half of its UK runners in Scotland. Most of the other stable competitors have been heavily concentrated in and around Northern England. In very general terms, the rare forays to the Southern parishes are underwhelming.

The dichotomy is stark: this is a yard that is seemingly content to harvest on the northern circuit consistently, leaving the South to others.

Analysing individual track performance, the below table demonstrates all course data for those where the stable has saddled 50 or more runners over the duration of the analysis.

 

The focus on Scotland can be clearly seen with Ayr, Kelso and Perth filling the top three berths and Musselburgh not too far behind. However, it’s hopefully obvious regarding the tracks that are front and centre in terms of punting interest. The output at Carlisle and Hexham sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. Consequently, they’re highlighted by the unsubtle dark blue bandings (Sedgefield and Kelso have claims, too).

Whilst Carlisle has an edge over Hexham in terms of profitability, both are worth noting with percentage strike rates well in the 30s. For the record it’s a 64% ROI at SP combined across this pair of wagering diamonds.

I spent a while trying to ascertain a better edge to the track info: race types, distances, venue of last run, all sorts of other info and, in truth, there wasn’t too much to be found to enhance the edge in question. That’s heartening, I guess, because the best, most sustainable, angles are also usually the simplest.

I did check those runners with SP’s at 16/1 or greater too, just in case there was a trick being missed at these tracks. Reassuringly, the numbers for the stable at these prices are 0/37 with only four placed horses, somewhat validating my semi-arbitrary 14/1 cut off point.

With an edge that is as route-one as this it may be expected that the market would have adapted, evolved, and essentially reduced or removed any punter advantage. To evaluate this, the graph below illustrates the cumulative profit and loss picture from the 2011 start date used in this article.

 

Basically, there is no sign of abatement, in fact it could be argued that performance is going from strength to strength with the twin track performance being as strong as ever over the past three years. The law of averages (and of Sod!) suggests it’s due a reversal at some point. However, as a bare minimum a Nicky Richards-trained horse at Carlisle or Hexham requires thorough analysis given that a third of them prevail. Until the market adapts, I’m going to keep a close eye on stable runners at these courses.

Nicky Richards: Stable jockeys

The below table shows the principal riders Richards has engaged from 2011 to date [excluding Brian Harding who took the bulk of the rides until his retirement in 2017]. Craig Nichol is also riding with much less frequency for the stable, too, over recent times (but is included).

 

If the primary focus is a quest for winners, then it’s no surprise whatsoever to see Brian Hughes lead the way. The strike rate on a Hughes ride is far superior (27%) to any other pilot deployed by the yard (Sean Quinlan, who has only taken 21 rides thus far, aside). However, deriving value from a champion jockey-steered runner is easier said than done in the long term as the ROI (0.9%) and A/E (0.95) allude. At first glance, at least, the value approach is to follow the mounts of Ryan Day. In fact, there would be worse ways to indiscriminately wager than backing the Richards/Day combo based on the intel above.

To prevail, or even tread water, in this game it’s essential to swim against the tide of the market on a consistent basis (if you’ll pardon my mixed and mangled metaphors). Listening to the many protagonists within racing media it’s quite easy to pick up on common assumptions or themes and it’s always fun trying to prove or disprove the comments through, you know, actual fact-checked analysis. It’s amazing how many urban myths and factoids are hurled around which have little statistical merit. One such oft-spouted view relates to jockey upgrades or downgrades from race to race and how much this may affect the chances of a particular horse.

By way of example, we have a young, talented jockey (Day) whose impact on his rides may be underestimated by the market. And we have an extremely high profile, leading champion jockey (Hughes) with all the associated focus. This inevitably results in his mounts usually being well found in market terms.

But what about jockey switches between the two on the same horse? We can see (albeit on a micro scale) that moving from Hughes to Day is not necessarily a downgrade. Day to Hughes is not necessarily is an upgrade either. In fact, the numbers suggest the converse.

 

Horses piloted last time out by Day that have switched to Hughes have produced just three victories from 23 outings. The converse switch is four from 13. Again, these are tiny samples so let’s not go overboard; but the point is to challenge assumptions about supposed rider upgrades. There are cases such as this everywhere, every day. In this example, from a value perspective, you shouldn’t be put off a horse piloted by Ryan Day, even if the champ was on top last time.

Nicky Richards: Headgear

Analysing the Richards stable in terms of headgear performance throws up some interesting stats. The table below shows the performance of the yard’s animals by whichever accoutrements are fitted to aid performance.

 

Yard runners dating back to 2011 have outperformed market expectations where some form of body kit has been added. Based on these numbers alone it appears to be reasonably clear cut that Richards and team are exemplar in understanding when to call on some of the aids available. Including the visored runners there are a total of 49 wins from 193 runs, an A/E of 1.29 and a 33% ROI just from backing all Richards runners with headgear at SP.

I did check to establish whether there was any pattern in how many times the yard had turned to a particular piece of headgear equipment for a given horse, expecting to potentially see horses with new (to them) attachments performing better to the tried and tested ones. There wasn’t too much in it, with all horses performing well irrespective of the freshness of the headgear solution to the animal. Again, it’s one for the checklist. A Richards runner with ‘go-faster stripes’ is one to shortlist if the price is keen enough at 14s or shorter.

Yet again, I’ve exceeded my intended word count so that’s it for another edition of Trainer Profiles. Hopefully, you’re armed with a few snippets around the top trainer Nicky Richards and have discovered something new along the way. I certainly have. The stable is right in the crosshairs now, and I’ll be tracking runners closely hereafter.

Hughes hits century mark with Musselburgh double

Brian Hughes chalked up his 100th winner of the campaign as Bareback Jack highlighted a double at Musselburgh for the reigning champion jockey.

Hughes secured his first championship last term and he leads the way again this year, with two wins for trainer Donald McCain at the Scottish venue seeing him hit the century mark.

Fiveandtwenty (6-4 favourite) got the pair up and running in the bet365 Scottish Triumph Hurdle, before Bareback Jack (5-2) lifted the bet365 Scottish Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in fine style.

Hughes told Great British Racing: “Reaching 100 winners is always the first main target for the season. Unfortunately, it’s taken slightly longer than I would have hoped due to racing being abandoned etc, but it’s great to finally reach that target. I now hope to push on and keep riding as many winners as I can.

“The championship is of course the main aim. Winning it last year has made me even hungrier and determined to win it again and retain my title. I will keep trying my hardest to hopefully become champion jockey once again come the end of the season.”

McCain added: “We take a lot of pride in having Brian, the current champion jump jockey, as our stable jockey, so I’m delighted to see him reach 100 winners for the season. In any season, riding 100 winners is a massive achievement.

“We are all behind him in his quest to become champion jockey again this year. It will be fully deserved, great for northern racing, and will cement his place as the top jump jockey at the moment.”

Paul Nicholls was also in double form at Musselburgh, with Threeunderthrufive (11-10 favourite) maintaining his unbeaten record over obstacles in the bet365 Scottish Stayers Novices’ Hurdle before Get The Appeal (7-1) took the closing handicap hurdle.

Jefferson’s pride and joy Waiting Patiently ready for Ascot again

Ruth Jefferson describes Waiting Patiently as “a joy and a headache to train” as she prepares for his latest attempt at big-race glory at Ascot.

It is coming up to five years since the Flemensfirth gelding broke his duck in a minor novice hurdle at Sedgefield for the now-retired Keith Reveley – and it is fair to say he has had a rollercoaster career ever since.

Having looked a superstar in the making after winning his first five starts over fences for Malcolm Jefferson, he made it six on the bounce with an emotional success in the 2018 Ascot Chase, a Grade One triumph which came just a couple of weeks after his popular trainer’s death.

A whole host of injuries have meant Jefferson’s daughter Ruth has managed to get her aptly-named stable star to the racecourse on just five occasions in the subsequent three years, but she has no doubt he is worth all the effort.

Speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing on Thursday, Jefferson said: “He’s a remarkable horse really. I know he’s not young any more, but he’s not run much and doesn’t think he’s old.

“He comes back time and again, and runs his race. You can’t really ask for more than that, but I would like another Grade One on his CV.”

Detailing some of the problems Waiting Patiently has endured, she said: “He had a bone spur that put him out of the Arkle as a novice chaser – then the following season he was due to go to Cheltenham in November, December and January and had a lung infection.

“After he won the Ascot Chase he got a touch of a leg injury, and we didn’t know if we were going to get him back, and since then we’ve had a chip that needed removing and a lung infection was resistant to 16 of 17 antibiotics it was that rare!

“He’s just that sort of horse. There’s always something with him, and you don’t know what’s coming next, but he’s worth spending the money on because he always comes back at that level.

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“He’s a joy and a headache to train. I’m not sure I’ve got another one like him in the yard at the moment – they’re not easy to come across when you’re someone like me.”

Waiting Patiently most recently proved his considerable ability remains very much intact when storming home to fill the runner-up spot behind Frodon in the King George VI Chase at Kempton – his first competitive outing in 12 months.

Jefferson had not even entered her charge for Saturday’s Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase, but decided to supplement him earlier this week at a cost of £5,000, such is his well-being.

“He came out of the King George really well,” she added.

“I had to ride him out two days later, because he’s quite an aggressive horse in his stable and he was going to hurt someone if we didn’t do something with him.

“It came up in conversation with Richard (Collins, owner) that the Clarence House was coming up, and it was a shame we hadn’t put him in. He texted me a few days later and said ‘what do you feel about supplementing him’?

“I told him I wasn’t against that. I said we could see what the ground was going to be like and what the race was going to be like, and if we were happy with him we’d do it – so we did.”

Given Waiting Patiently’s injury record, it is hardly surprising Jefferson is none too keen in looking beyond this weekend’s assignment.

He has been entered for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Ryanair Chase and the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March, but his trainer is in no rush to make running plans.

She said: “Straight after the King George Richard rang me up and said ‘we’ll go for the Gold Cup’, but that was literally within 20 minutes of the race and he was very excited to have a Gold Cup contender.

“Five days later he wasn’t quite as convinced and didn’t want to give him a Gold Cup entry, but I said it would make me happy to enter him, and he agreed.

“We’ve put him in everything, because it’s still seven weeks until Cheltenham and I don’t know what the ground is going to be, what’s going to turn up and what’s going to pay the cost to come from Ireland. Why rule it out now when we’ve got seven weeks to think about it?

“The horse is versatile, and we can let the ground decide which way we go, rather than getting excited one way or the other.”

Brian Hughes has been ever-present in the saddle during Waiting Patiently’s 11-race chasing career thus far – and he remains the champion jockey’s only Grade One winner to date.

Hughes said: “He’s an extremely talented horse and extremely versatile. He’s not overly big, but he’s very strong and muscly – and no matter what the trip is, he runs his race.

“We feel he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, because he’s a northern horse, but he’s a very good horse and has run very good horses to small margins when he’s been beaten.

“Hopefully he shows up again on Saturday, and I’m confident he’ll put up a big show.”

Hughes, who again leads this year’s title race, would love to showcase his talents more on the big stage, and believes his top-level opportunities are more limited because he is based in the north.

He added: “It’s brilliant when you’re riding lots of winners, but when you look back at your career when you’ve finished, you’d like to have a few big races on your CV.

“I’m lucky to have a horse like Waiting Patiently, but I’ve only got one of him – whereas other jockeys have 10 Grade One horses to ride.

“That is just the way the cards fall for different jockeys. You want to have Grade One winners, and trainers want to have them and owners want to have them – that’s always the dream.

“I feel there’s a lot of good trainers, owners and jockeys in the north, and we sort of seem to get looked upon as second-class citizens sometimes. I thought me being champion jockey was something everyone in the north could take a bit of credit for.”

Brian Hughes expresses support for BHA coronavirus policy

Champion jockey Brian Hughes has given his backing to the British Horseracing Authority’s medical team after reports the ruling body is considering the introduction of a new coronavirus testing system.

Racing was the first elite sport to return last June following a three-month shutdown to combat the outbreak of Covid-19.

However, while strict protocols have been in place ever since – with all attendees required to complete a health questionnaire prior to each meeting and undergo temperature checks before being allowed entry – coronavirus testing has not been implemented, unlike in some other sports.

With a more virulent strain of the virus causing a significant rise in positive cases since Christmas, football’s Premier League and the EFL have moved to a more robust screening process, with players now being tested twice a week.

According to reports on Wednesday, the BHA is currently weighing up the possibility of following a similar model for jockeys.

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Hughes said: “I’m in support of keeping everybody safe. I feel Dr Jerry Hill (chief medical adviser) of the BHA has done a very good job in keeping us all safe – all the protocols and biosecurity measures that have been put in place I feel have worked very well.

“All the precautions that have been put in place are for our benefit. I feel it is working well, but if they feel that (testing) is necessary for the sport, I have no objections.

“From trainers, to owners, to stable staff, jockeys’ valets and all people that work at the races, everyone involved has pulled together.

The field pass the empty grandstand at Doncaster earlier this week
The field pass the empty grandstand at Doncaster earlier this week (Tim Goode/PA)

“We all want to race and want to keep racing. We all want to do it safely, and I feel that has been done very well up until now.

“Everyone is learning all the time about Covid and the way it’s changing. Anything we can do to keep everyone safe is only a good thing.”

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Racing whose constituency includes Cheltenham, told the Daily Mail that testing should be introduced.

He said: “It would be a good idea for more testing to be done at racecourses, particularly if we can get a rapid rollout of quick turnaround tests.

“Last summer we were restricted to testing people showing symptoms, but that is no longer the case.”

Measures to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus on racecourses have been strengthened in recent months, with face masks made mandatory in October and owners prevented from attending since the turn of the year.

Redcar Races – June 21st
Jockeys have to wear face masks (Tony Knapton/PA)

A BHA spokesperson said: “Racing’s coronavirus control protocols are approved by UK Government. Racing is a predominantly outdoor, rural, non-contact sport and it was agreed by DCMS and Public Health England that for this reason – allied to the stringent, bespoke controls that have been put in place on racecourses – when racing resumed it would not require an ongoing mass-testing programme, but instead would utilise a strict health screening approach.

“The sport’s protocols are working well, and the industry has acted very responsibly in terms of observing Government guidance. As a result there has been no evidence observed of transmission of the disease on racecourses since the sport resumed on June 1, from around 800 fixtures.

“However, we are constantly monitoring the situation and liaising with the industry and training hubs. We take an agile approach, and our protocols are under constant review to determine how racing can continue to strengthen our approach and best safeguard our people.

“Owing to the new variant of the disease the picture is changing – and should evidence show it is necessary, then testing is an option that may be helpful. As ever, we will be led by the science, data and evidence.”

Hughes believes ‘forgotten horse’ Waiting Patiently can make his mark in King George

Champion jockey Brian Hughes is hoping to “sneak in under the radar” with Waiting Patiently in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

Ruth Jefferson’s nine-year-old has not run since finishing third in the Tingle Creek last December and unseated in this race in 2018, but he is a Grade One winner in his own right and the lack of a recent outing is of no concern to Hughes.

He also has winning course form, and Hughes is taking encouragement from his Ascot Chase victory that he will see out the three-mile distance in the Boxing Day highlight at Kempton Park.

He told VBet: “It’s obviously a good race. There’s the likes of Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux, who has won the last two King Georges, and lots of other very talented horses.

“But he’s in really good form at home. He hasn’t run since last December, but that’s never been a barrier for him before and he’s always done well after a long lay-off.

“I’ve had three away days with him and he’s schooled really well each time. Ruth is really happy with him and he’s as fit as you can physically get him at home.

“He’s always been the forgotten horse, probably because he’s not trained by a big southern yard but that suits us nicely as we can just sneak in there under the radar.

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“The big question is whether he’ll stay. I guess the fact is no one really knows, but he got two (miles) five (furlongs) at a track like Ascot so that has to give you confidence.

“Everything’s gone well and we’re hoping he can run a huge race.”

Santini should not be underestimated in the King George, says Nico de Boinville
Santini should not be underestimated in the King George, says Nico de Boinville (Tim Goode/PA)

Nico de Boinville warns it would be folly to “underestimate or write off” the chance of Santini.

While accepting Kempton would not be the ideal track for the eight-year-old, the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up has a CV that merits plenty of respect.

And trainer Nicky Henderson’s decision to supplement him for £5,000 was the right thing to do, according to De Boinville.

“Obviously, it was a late call by the guv’nor as to whether we supplemented him, but it made complete sense,” the jockey told Unibet.

“We know this isn’t his ideal track, as we saw in the Kauto Star at this meeting a couple of seasons ago, but it is not as if he ran a shocker that day and he is the third-favourite in a King George and that tells you it is well worth a roll of the dice.

Nico de Boinville is looking forward to riding Santini in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase
Nico de Boinville is looking forward to riding Santini in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (David Davies/PA)

“He also happens to be one of the best staying chasers in the country, as we saw in the Gold Cup in March, and I am sure the Aintree run last month will have done him the power of good.

“I obviously wasn’t riding him there, but he clearly ran a very solid race from which to build from. The top two in the market clearly have big claims – my slight preference would be for Cyrname – but if people write my horse off or underestimate him, then so be it.

“The form book says they shouldn’t, and any more rain will not harm his chances either, as that would clearly put the emphasis more on stamina.”

Sam Twiston-Davies won the race 12 months ago on Clan Des Obeaux from his Paul Nicholls-trained stablemate Cyrname and is just as thrilled to be involved again.

“It’s nice to be at Kempton, first and foremost, on Boxing Day,” he told William Hill Racing.

“Christmas is obviously great and then when you’ve got that at the back end of it, it just makes it even more exciting.

“I’m lucky being born in a racing family – once you’d got that Christmas lunch out of the way there was only one thing you were thinking about and that was the runners the next day and was dad (Nigel Twiston-Davies) going to have a winner.

“To then be jumping in the car when we were kids to go to Boxing Day, with Imperial Commander and stuff in the past.

“Now to go and ride a horse with a good chance is literally the stuff you dream about when you’re young.”

Resurgent Sam’s Adventure takes control in Tommy Whittle

Sam’s Adventure bounced back to form with a strong, staying performance to win the Betfair Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase at Haydock.

After two runs last month, Brian Ellison’s eight-year-old was razor sharp for the feature race on the card – and he duly produced the goods.

There was plenty of drama, however, with several horses failing to finish.

Early leader Roll Again was one, unseating his rider and then sadly having to be put down after injuring his spine in a fall while loose.

Crixus’s Escape and Enqarde also exited the race, while Pop Rockstar was twice badly hampered before finishing last.

Held up out of harm’s way by champion jockey Brian Hughes in the early stages of the near three-and-a-quarter-mile event, Sam’s Adventure (14-1) crept into contention in the straight.

The well-fancied Sojourn hit the front at the third-last, but Sam’s Adventure was biding his time.

Produced by Hughes to lead at the final fence, he galloped on resolutely to take the prize by four lengths from Sojourn.

Salty Boy was two and a quarter lengths further back in third, with Highest Sun another length away in fourth place.

The win completed a 149-1 double for Hughes, following his earlier success on Albert’s Back.

“It’s been a great day now. He had a chance on the best of his form,” said the champion jockey.

“He’s a good jumper, stays well – and although he got beaten the last day, he was interfered with down the back here and did well to stand up.

“He’s a horse Brian (Ellison) fancied coming here today – and he was right.

“He’s a big old lad, and it’s probably taken a couple of runs for him to come to hand.

“Brian and his team had him in great shape coming here today, so it’s no surprise to them anyway. It is to me, but not to them, and it’s great to win a race for (owners) Julie and Phil Martin in Julie’s colours. Brilliant.”

First prize for My Old Gold at Carlisle

My Old Gold claimed a valuable black-type success in the Houghton Mares’ Chase at Carlisle.

The Nicky Richards-trained mare, who beat this weekend’s Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap at Doncaster nearly a year ago, was lining up after disappointing on her first run of the campaign at Market Rasen.

Henry Daly’s Chilli Filli, winner of the Market Rasen race, re-opposed – but the market was headed by Kerry Lee’s Happy Diva, who could finish only third.

Happy Diva had fallen last time out when still in contention in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, attempting to win it for a second year in succession, and she had 6lb and upwards in hand on all her rivals on official ratings.

Richard Patrick set out to make all on the odds-on favourite, but champion jockey Brian Hughes could be noted travelling strongly on My Old Gold.

Having hit the front, My Old Gold (4-1) appeared to have everything under control – and although Chilli Filli arrived on the scene to challenge after the last, the winner was always doing enough.

Hughes told Racing TV: “We thought the ground would have been a lot slower than it was at Market Rasen – but it had dried up, and she’s more at ease on this (soft) surface.

“She’s a versatile mare and she’s twice a Listed winner now. She beat the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy) winner at Doncaster last year, and she’s got solid form all the way through.

“She’s 10 now but was a late starter, and she doesn’t ride like a 10-year-old.

“Nicky will find the right race – she’s versatile and can get three miles. She’ll make a grand broodmare, but I wouldn’t mind a few more days out of her yet.”

Gilligan delighted to make Wetherby raid pay dividends

Irish challenger Born By The Sea made a successful raid on Wetherby with victory in the Sixt Car Hire Intermediate Chase.

Trained by Galway-based Paul Gilligan, the six-year-old was the outsider of three runners at 7-1, with little to choose between 11-10 favourite Geordie B and 6-5 shot The Mulcair at the top of the market.

With several jumping errors leading to a disappointing display from Geordie B, it turned into a straight fight between Born To Sea and The Mulcair – and it was the former who prevailed by three-quarters of a length in the hands of the trainer’s son, Jack.

“It was a great ride from Jack, he did everything asked of him. He won it nicely,” the trainer said of the performance, which was the jockey’s first winner on English turf.

“Jack’s my son, so that adds to it,” he continued.

“It’s even better when it’s your own lad riding, it’s just fantastic. He’s a better horse fresh, so it’s possible we’ll wait now and enter him in a good race at Leopardstown over Christmas.”

Sue Smith’s Joke Dancer emerged victorious in a photo finish to claim the Watch The Jumps In HD On RacingTV Handicap Chase.

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Joke Dancer soars over a fence at Wetherby
Joke Dancer soars over a fence at Wetherby (Mike Egerton/PA)

The 5-1 chance benefited from the application of cheekpieces and ran prominently throughout, finding himself heading the field alongside Rose Dobbin’s Some Reign over the last.

After wandering slightly off his path on the approach to the post, the gelding was joined by his challenger as he crossed the line and the judge was left to separate the runners, with Ryan Mania’s mount taking the race by short head.

Champion jockey Brian Hughes teamed up with trainer John Quinn to take the wetherbyracing.co.uk Juvenile Maiden Hurdle aboard 8-13 favourite First Impression.

The success was a first in the National Hunt sphere for the three-year-old, who was tackling hurdles for a third time after being previously campaigned by Quinn on the Flat.

“I’m very pleased with him, his jumping was better,” the trainer said.

“Brian said he’d have liked the ground a bit softer as it was drying up a bit sticky. I was pleased, he’s got his head in front now, which can only do him good. I’ll probably run him again around Christmas time.

“We hope he’s capable of winning a nice race in the spring, a novice handicap, a nice race somewhere. Until we get his rating and we run him again, we probably wouldn’t be making any hard or fast plans for him.

“I feel he’ll win a good pot somewhere along the line.”

Funambule Sivola was one of two Wetherby winners for Venetia Williams
Funambule Sivola was one of two Wetherby winners for Venetia Williams (Mike Egerton/PA)

A wind operation and a graduation to chasing seemed to make all the difference for Venetia Williams’ Funambule Sivola, who coasted to a seven-length success in the Watch Racing TV Anywhere Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Piloted by Charlie Deutsch, the 7-2 shot produced a smooth round of jumping to pull clear of Neil Mulholland’s 11-8 favourite Exelerator Express over the final fence.

Gemirande (17-2) later provided Deutsch and Williams with a second winner on the card when taking the two-mile Follow @racingtv On Twitter Novices’ Hurdle by three and three-quarter lengths.

Spectators outside the course grounds watch the action unfold
Spectators outside the course grounds watch the action unfold (Mike Egerton/PA)

Jumping the last level with 1-8 favourite Soaring Glory, the four-year-old was handed the race when his rival made a jumping error and fell, leaving the winner to gallop home unchallenged.

Elsewhere on the card, Ian Williams’ Sometimes Always (3-1) justified his place at the head of the market when taking the Visit injuredjockeys.co.uk For Christmas Cards Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle by six lengths under 3lb claimer Charlie Todd.

Division one of the EBF Stallions Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race went the way of Miss Lamb (5-1) for Jedd O’Keeffe and Joe Colliver, with division two claimed by Billams Legacy (3-1), ridden by Paddy Brennan for Fergal O’Brien.

Ribble Valley lives up to expectations at Carlisle

Ribble Valley booked his ticket for the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle with a smooth success on his comeback at Carlisle.

Nicky Richards has never disguised his admiration for the seven-year-old and reappearing having had a wind operation since meeting with his sole defeat over hurdles, he oozed class.

While only four went to post in the Watch Irish Racing On racingtv.com Intermediate Hurdle, the seven-year-old was giving 6lb to Olly Murphy’s highly-regarded Nickolson but he had no answer as champion jockey Brian Hughes breezed by on the 8-15 favourite.

On jumping the last Hughes just asked Ribble Valley to lengthen and he won by five and a half lengths, setting up a trip to Newcastle on November 28.

“That was lovely, he’ll come on a lot for that and Brian said it couldn’t have been nicer,” said Richards.

“He’s been very heavy and took a bit of getting fit, so Brian just asked him to lengthen after the last, he thought he’d give him a blow, there was no point sitting up on him.

“That was only his fourth run over hurdles so he’s very inexperienced. At the start of the season we thought, bearing in mind the level we hope he’s going to get to, he didn’t have enough experience to go chasing.

“So we were thinking of today and if it went well, which it has, he’ll probably go for the Fighting Fifth to get some more experience. Then we’ll take it from there, see how that goes and take it race by race.

“Brian said it was chopped up on the inside today so he kept him wide. Brian thinks some real good to soft ground and a proper gallop would be ideal.

“I just hope it’s not heavy ground come Newcastle as that might spoil the party.”

Earlier Dan Skelton’s Protektorat (5-4 favourite) put up a smart round of jumping to win the Introducing Racing TV Beginners’ Chase.

Hughes gearing up for title defence

Brian Hughes is expecting his jump jockeys’ title defence to take off when winter hits and the new season begins in earnest.

Hughes won his first championship this April, chalking up 141 victories in a season which was prematurely ended by the coronavirus outbreak.

Already leading the table with 36 victories this season, which began in July, Hughes will again be riding for several prolific northern trainers throughout the jumps calendar.

Brian Hughes celebrates on board Ballyalton after victory in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase the 2016 Cheltenham Festival
Brian Hughes celebrates on board Ballyalton after victory in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival (David Davies/PA)

“We’ve had an OK start, and it has been steady for the last month because the winter horses are not quite ready,” he said.

“I’ve got all of Donald (McCain’s) and Nicky’s (Richards) to come – and I ride plenty for Brian Ellison, James Ewart and Keith Dalgleish – so I will have plenty of horses to go to war with.”

Hughes’ key challenger is of course likely to be four-time champion Richard Johnson, whose chances of winning a fifth title last season were interrupted by a broken arm in January.

Johnson currently sits seventh in the table with 23 victories, but Hughes knows the real battle will begin later in the campaign.

Simply Ned (right) ridden by Brian Hughes in the Shloer Chase during the November Meeting at Cheltenham
Simply Ned (right), ridden by Brian Hughes, in the Shloer Chase during the November Meeting at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to win it again,” he said.

“It’s not going to be easy – because a lot of the other lads, with the different set-up over the summer, are a lot closer, but that is what sport is about.

“I’ve just got to keep my head down, keep safe, fit and healthy and simply try my best.

“At the end of the day, I will just worry about myself and try to do the best job I can do, and I imagine the other lads will be trying to do the same.”