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New champion Harry Skelton full of praise for brother Dan’s backing

Harry Skelton has paid tribute to his brother Dan’s role in helping him to secure a first National Hunt jockeys’ championship.

All but a handful of Skelton’s 150-plus winners this year have been trained by Dan, with the duo having formed a potent partnership since striking out on their own, with the support of their Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper father Nick, nearly 10 years ago.

Skelton sealed the title after a thrilling battle with defending champion Brian Hughes, who eventually had to concede defeat on Thursday after time ran out.

“Everyone knows I ride for Dan and I don’t have too many other outside rides, but the planning and everything has been down to Dan. He knew exactly what needed to be done. Without him planning and doing all that, I wouldn’t have been in the position,” said Skelton.

Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership
Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership (David Davies/PA)

“We’re brothers and blood is thicker than water. The two of us have always done it together – that’s the way it is. He wants me to achieve and become the best I can and I want the same for him.

“Our owners have been fantastic and very loyal, I’m very grateful to everyone that has reached out and given me a chance to ride a winner for them, especially over the last eight weeks. It’s been fantastic and hopefully I’ve repaid them when they have booked me and given them a winner as well.”

Skelton’s progress has not been a straight line with his total dwindling to just eight winners in the 2012/13 before Dan took the plunge and set up on his own, sparking a renaissance in his brother’s riding career in the process.

He explained: “When I lost my claim, that year was all right, it was the year after it just came to a bit of a halt. I rode eight winners one season and it was disappointing.

“I was at Paul Nicholls’ for nine years and I suppose as one door closes, another one opens, but luckily Dan came along at the right time and started training. It was like we were both starting again and without him, I wouldn’t be sat here in the position I’m in.

“All my eggs were in the Lodge Hill basket, dad set us up and it was down to us then to basically not mess it up.

Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue
Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue (Jacob King/PA)

“It never really crossed my mind to give up. It was a hard year, but it was a year, not four or five years. I was lucky that Dan started and if he hadn’t, who knows what might have happened.

“The year before Dan started, I was riding out for as many people as I could, six days a week, travelling up and down the country and I have so much respect for all the lads in the weighing room who do that now.”

Skelton admits the winning mentality is a family trait and his father provided him with some sage advice gleaned from his breathtaking Olympic success in 2016 as he began his title push in earnest over the last few weeks.

He said: “Obviously dad has had a massive impact on my life. He’s been there and done it. It was only a little while ago John Hales, who is a family friend (and owner), said ‘you’ve got to ask your dad what he went through in that final round at Rio and how he handled it’.

“He was just there to support me really, he didn’t add any pressure on to it. You’ve just got to do everything you would normally do, that’s what he said. Take it day be day, race by race and try not to get ahead of yourself. Every race was important and every ride was important, concentrate on that moment in time and do the best you can from one race to the next.

Harry Skelton celebrates with his Bridget
Harry Skelton celebrates with wife Bridget (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Me and Dan have been brought up with horses, in showjumping and racing, and it was about winning. That was our life, that’s all we’ve ever known.”

Skelton’s wife Bridget Andrews is also no stranger to success, being a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey herself, but the champion believes his title campaign has perhaps been toughest on those around him.

He said: “Bridget’s been amazing, the last three weeks have been difficult. It’s probably been harder on Bridget, my dad and Dan than it has on myself because they can only get me to the races and get me on the horse, then it’s down to me.

“When you really want something, it’s amazing what the mind can do. You do think about it all the time – it’s 24/7 with a battle like it’s been – but I was happy being there as it’s something I was trying to achieve.

“Of course (I will try to defend the title). Every day you are trying to win, not a lot is going to change because I go out every day and try my best. I’ll just give it everything and you just want to keep riding winners – that’s all you can do.”

Harry Skelton seals champion jumps jockey crown

Harry Skelton will officially be crowned champion jump jockey at Sandown on Saturday after the clock ran out on Brian Hughes at Perth.

Defending champion Hughes started the day 10 winners behind Skelton, who was in action at Exeter’s evening fixture.

Hughes had seven booked rides in Scotland, but after managing only one winner it became numerically impossible for him to catch Skelton.

The duo have been locked in an enthralling battle for the jockeys’ title, with Skelton reeling in early leader Hughes in the last few weeks before seizing the advantage at Southwell on April 13.

The champion-elect chalked up his 150th winner as part of a double at Ludlow on Wednesday – and with only Hughes only having six rides on Friday and one on Saturday, he cannot make up the lost ground.

Harry Skelton riding Shannon Bridge to win at Ascot
Harry Skelton riding Shannon Bridge to win at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

All but a handful of Skelton’s winning mounts have been trained by his brother Dan, and the rider pinpointed the team’s victory with Shannon Bridge in a handicap hurdle at Ascot on February 20 as the moment he realised he could be in with a title shot.

He said: “I knew the horses were in good form, I knew I had the ammunition to do it. I can’t thank all the staff at Lodge Hill (Skelton’s yard) enough.

“Shannon Bridge was the turning point when I knew we had some fresh horses to go at, that is a big plus, horses that hadn’t been racing over the winter and I knew Dan’s planning.

“I know what he’s capable of, when he’s got something in his mind, you’d be doing well to get it out of his head.

“Once I had a sniff of something, I’m a competitor and I was willing to give it my all. Shannon Bridge was the point when I knew I was close enough that it was possible.”

Dan and Harry Skelton are a formidable team
Dan and Harry Skelton are a formidable team (David Davies/PA)

Skelton was eager to pay tribute to all involved at the Alcester yard, including assistant trainer Tom Messenger who has done plenty of driving for the rider around the country in his search for winners.

He said: “I hope the people who have helped me get here will realise it might be my name there, but it’s a part of them as well.

“All the staff at Lodge Hill, I hope they can get a kick out of it and realise it is down to them.

“Tom Messenger has been great the whole way through. Quite often he’s the one to deal with me when we get back in the car when things haven’t gone to plan. He’s the first one to hear about it, but he’d always put me right and we’d move on to the next thing.”

Skelton also hailed former jockey Ian Popham, who is now his agent.

Speaking on a call hosted by Great British Racing, he added: “Ian has been amazing. he’s my best friend and grafted hard over the last eight to 12 weeks, he’s done all he can to try to get me as many good rides and winners as he can. I think this is a testament to him as well – I think that stands well for his career. I’m very grateful for what he’s done.”

Brian Hughes has pushed Harry Skelton all the way
Brian Hughes has pushed Harry Skelton all the way (Steve Davies/PA)

Hughes has had over 200 mores rides than Skelton through the season, which got off to a late start on July 1 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Skelton admits the rivals do not meet all that often, but he paid tribute to Hughes’ dedication, hailing him as a “fierce competitor” as well as a champion.

He said: “Brian is up in the north, I’m down here in the south so we don’t cross all that much.

“Brian is a fierce competitor, he is a winner and he is a champion – no one can ever take that away from him. I have the utmost respect for him.

“He’s had over 200 more rides than me – that takes an awful lot of drive, a lot of dedication to do what he does. I take my hat off to what he does – I think I’ve been busy, but he’s had 200 more, it’s incredible really.

“At the end of the day, he is a champion and I’d like my name to be just underneath his.”

The newly-crowned champion is fully aware of his achievement, according to his brother, who has been with him every step of the way.

“It’s a lifetime ambition. Every young jockey walks into the weighing room and hopes one day to be champion jockey,” said the trainer.

“He’s done that and he’s well aware of the enormity of it. He’s very proud to have done it and I’m very proud of him.

“The people who have worked hard to get him to this point, not just this season but all throughout his career – you can’t do that without the support of a lot of different people, a lot of family, a lot of friends, owners, staff, everybody.

“He gets the trophy, but there’s a lot of people who have made that happen and he is very grateful to them all for that.

“I’m just very proud of him.”

Skelton still eight ahead of Hughes after title-chasing pair draw Sedgefield blank

Harry Skelton still holds an advantage of eight over title-holder Brian Hughes in the race to be champion jump jockey after both drew a blank at Sedgefield on Tuesday.

Skelton was left the more frustrated as he had four seconds from his book of rides, to stay on 148 for the season that ends on Saturday.

And he picked up a four-day ban (May 4-7) for careless riding when finishing fifth on Dubai Guest behind Millie The Minx (7-1) in the Carpet Gallop For The Professional Trainer Handicap Hurdle. Thankfully for Skelton, the upcoming suspension has no bearing on his title aspirations.

His bout of seconditis began on Costly Diamond, who led to the final fence where Valence D’Aumont (5-1) took over in the hands of Ryan Mania.

The Sue Smith-trained seven-year-old got the better of Dan Skelton’s charge to prevail by a neck in the Call carpetgallop.co.uk 01785719991 Handicap Chase.

The winning connections denied Skelton on Ambassador as they completed a quick double with Burrows Diamond (9-4) in the Dust Free Horse Bedding Envirobed 01785719996 Handicap.

“The horse has done it really well,” Mania told Sky Sports Racing.

“I wasn’t sure how the form would hold up from her last run as she did it so easily and I wasn’t sure what was in behind me.

“But she has certainly has improved for that performance, has got her confidence and has done it really nicely.

“A strongly-run two miles is perfect and this ground has been the key to her.”

Skelton had a third successive second place when Getariver found Road Warrior (100-30 joint-favourite) too good in the Envirobed 01785719996 after he dropped his whip in the closing stages.

Rebecca Menzies’ seven-year-old kept finding for Kane Yeoman and gave the 7lb claimer a ninth career triumph.

Skelton’s forcing tactics looked like paying off on Get Sky High in the concluding bumper, but the 6-4 favourite was worn down by Martha Willow.

Jedd O’Keeffe’s four-year-old filly went on to score by five and a half lengths.

A third place was the best Hughes could muster, although he looked unlucky in the opening carpetgallop.co.uk 01785719991 maiden hurdle.

He was leading on Malpas when his mount came down at the second-last. Hughes then got a glancing blow from Miss Smartypants, who also came down at that flight, when he tried to take evasive action.

However, he was quickly on his feet and none the worse.

The race went to the Roger Fell-trained Spantik (13-2), ridden by Alain Cawley.

Skelton edges further clear of Hughes in jockeys’ championship

Harry Skelton appears almost certain to be crowned champion jockey for the first time on Saturday after extending his lead over Brian Hughes to eight with a double at Hexham on Monday.

Both Skelton and Hughes headed to Northumberland with a strong book of rides, with reigning champion Hughes in desperate need of a big day as he began the afternoon six winners behind ahead of the conclusion of the season this weekend.

However, it was Skelton who strengthened his already-considerable grip on the title race by landing the second and third races of the day, while Hughes drew a blank.

The pair fought out a thrilling finish to the Hexham Britain’s Most Scenic Racecourse ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle, with Skelton and brother Dan teaming up with 8-11 favourite Dazzling Glory.

Hughes threw everything he had at the Donald McCain-trained Geromino after the final flight, but came off second best by a head.

Skelton and Hughes also filled the first two places in the following kingmakerracedays.co.uk Working With Susan Corbett Racing Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Brian Hughes faces an uphill battle to retain his crown
Brian Hughes faces an uphill battle to retain his crown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

However, while it was not entirely plain sailing for Skelton aboard the 2-5 favourite Dragon Bones as she hung right on the approach to the final flight, she was well on top as she passed the post with just over four lengths in hand over the Hughes-ridden Little Actress.

With their respective tallies of 148 and 140 winners for the campaign, Skelton and Hughes are Sedgefield on Tuesday to continue their battle, with both riding in all seven races on the card.

There was a minute’s silence before racing and all jockeys wore black armbands as a mark of respect to amateur rider Lorna Brooke, who tragically died on Sunday after being airlifted to hospital following a fall at Taunton 10 days earlier.

‘Lorna was at the forefront of the Corinthians’ – David Maxwell

David Maxwell has paid tribute to fellow amateur jockey Lorna Brooke, who died on Sunday.

Brooke, 37, who rode principally for her mother, Lady Susan Brooke, was one of many who took part in races simply for the love of her sport.

Like Maxwell and other amateurs, it costs them money to do what they do – and Maxwell said Brooke epitomised the spirit among jockeys in the non-paid ranks.

“Amateurs do it for love – the love of the game and more importantly the love of the horse,” he said.

“There’s such passion in the sport. At the amateur level nobody has to do it. Lorna was at the forefront of the Corinthians.

“She rode a lot for her mother and it was a really lovely family story, which is what so much of National Hunt racing is about.

“It is often said, but at times like this you get a real sense of how tight-knit the racing community, but especially National Hunt, really is.”

Brooke was airlifted to hospital following a fall at Taunton on April 8, and Maxwell was fulsome in his praise of the care jockeys receive on track.

“The one thing I will say about racing in this country is the medical care the jockeys receive, it is second to none. This is the first fatality on a professional UK racecourse for about 15 years. That is testament to the amazing care in place,” he said.

“The BHA (British Horseracing Authority) don’t get enough credit for this, it really is the gold-standard internationally which makes events such as this fortunately rather rare, but because of that it makes it probably more upsetting on the rare occasions that it does happen.

“This is tragic and shocking, it really is.”

The Professional Jockeys Association said in statement: “This is a devastating reminder of the dangers our brave men and women face and our thoughts and prayers are with Lorna’s family, friends and colleagues.

“Lorna was an incredibly hard working, popular member of the weighing room and whilst her licence was as an amateur jockey, she was a professional in every other sense. We have lost one of our own and she will be sorely missed.”

Current champion jockey Brian Hughes was another to pay tribute, on a day when jockeys sported black armbands at all meetings in Britain.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “It’s terrible. That is the harsh reality of this sport, but you always hope and pray it’s never going to happen to anyone.

Champion jockey Brian Hughes:
Champion jockey Brian Hughes: “You always hope and pray it’s never going to happen to anyone.” (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“When people get a fall, the first thing you do is hope they get up OK. The competitive edge goes out of the window.

“It’s terribly sad for Lorna and her family and friends. I must admit I didn’t know the extent of her injuries, but to read this morning that she’d lost her life is very sad.

“She’s lost her life doing something she loved. It’s a small community (in racing) and everyone is feeling it today.

“I wish her family and friends condolences and hope they can look back at her life with a smile, rather than the way it’s ended.”

Grand National-winning trainer Donald McCain wrote on Twitter: “Everyone here at Bankhouse was devastated to hear the news that Lorna Brooke had lost her fight this morning. Her family and friends are in our thoughts. RIP Lorna.”

Cheltenham Festival-winning rider Bridget Andrews added: “As sad as we are all feeling today, Lorna would want us to smile and carry on doing the sport we all love! We must never take for granted going home each night! Sleep tight Lorna x.”

Harry Skelton extends title lead with Bangor double

Harry Skelton stretched his jump jockeys’ championship lead to six ahead of Brian Hughes thanks to a double on his brother Dan’s horses at Bangor.

Dan Gun and Dog Of War struck for the Skeltons – while Hughes suffered several near misses as his title rival took his winning tally to 145.

Skelton and Hughes are set to continue trading blows throughout the last week of the season – but with just seven days to go before the finale at Sandown, it is the former who has the clear upper hand, and has shortened to 1-20 favourite with the bookmakers.

Brother Dan has nonetheless warned the title is not a done deal yet, and he is expecting more twists and turns still to come in the battle royal at Ayr, Perth, Sandown and elsewhere over the coming days.

The Warwickshire trainer told Sky Sports Racing: “The worst hope is false hope – you can’t think that it’s over, because it certainly isn’t.

“Brian Hughes is definitely going to have more than five winners between now and the end of the season.

“So it’s going to be hard. There’s no time to take your foot off the gas, no time to dwell and reflect – you’ve got to keep going forward.”

He is, however, very proud of what his brother has achieved so far.

“It’s a great position for Harry to be in,” he added.

“Every jockey walks into the weighing room for the very first time and hopes one day they can be in a position to challenge for champion jockey – and he is in that position.

“It’s been an amazing rollercoaster, and I’ve always thought the final week will have a big say in it – and I think Perth (Wednesday to Friday) is going to have a massive, massive say.

“There’s no time to take in what’s going on. It’s all been flat out, but I hope we can look back on it all when we get to the end, and reflect positively.

“I’m proud of Harry. I drive the car a little bit – Tom Messenger does most of that – and I declare the horses.

“When it comes to being champion jockey, it’s a one-man thing. So he’s got to be proud of himself, and we’re all very proud of him.”

Skelton stretched his title advantage in the opening race, the first division of the Potter Group Handicap Hurdle.

Dan Gun provided him with his 144th winner before noon, on a card which got under way at 11.25 so it could be completed before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.

The 13-8 favourite was delivered from off the pace and was clear at the last, beating Hughes and Rubytwo into second by six and a half lengths.

Both jockeys were unplaced in division two, and then Hughes had to settle for second again in the Maelor Handicap Chase – leading at the last on Discko Des Plages only to be run out of it by Aidan Coleman on another of the 3-1 co-favourites, Casa Tall.

Hughes’ run of near misses continued in a groundhog scenario in the Darlands Novices’ Handicap Chase, with the extra aggravation for him this time of finishing second to Skelton again.

The championship leader arrived with a telling challenge at the last once more as Dog Of War defied a minor market drift to 3-1 to beat Hughes on 2-1 favourite Armattiekan by a length and a half.

The winning jockey said: “He did it really well, and travelled well.

“Since he only ran the other day, we hadn’t done a lot with him – maybe we should have done a bit more, because he was quite fresh.

“I’ll keep rolling, keep going.”

The Skeltons were, however, then out of luck with their last runner of the day – Interconnected in the Horseradish Maiden Hurdle.

In the absence of Hughes, the long odds-on favourite appeared to have a golden opportunity to break his duck but instead fell at the last when upsides the 28-1 winner Aviewtosea.

Both horse and jockey were unscathed.

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.”

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.

“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.

“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.

 

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.

“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.

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.”