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Hughes on the verge of landmark success after Sedgefield double

Brian Hughes moved to within one of the magical 200-winner mark for the season after riding a first and last race double at Sedgefield.

Fresh from booting home his 197th winner at Fakenham on Easter Monday, the 36-year-old headed north with a strong book of five rides in his bid to become only the fourth jump jockey to ride a double century in a single campaign.

Having ridden almost twice as many winners at Sedgefield than at any other track this season, Hughes will have had high hopes of getting the job done in County Durham.

But while he got the afternoon off to a flier aboard Gold Miner and ended the day with success aboard the prohibitively-priced Imperial Merlin, he was out of luck on his other three rides, meaning he remains one short of the landmark with four days of the season remaining.

The Brian Ellison-trained Gold Miner was the 11-10 favourite for the opening Cazoo Maiden Hurdle and dominated from flag-fall – passing the post with two and a half lengths in hand.

Ellison said: “He’s a grand horse who jumps well and really he’s crying out for fences. He’s getting on a bit and I wouldn’t want to keep running on that ground, but he does want to go chasing.”

The Malton-based trainer hopes Hughes can join Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Peter Scudamore in the 200 club before the season concludes at Sandown on Saturday, adding: “It’s very hard to ride 200 winners, but Brian deserves it as he goes everywhere and he’s at it seven days a week.”

After finishing third on Costly Diamond, second on Spiritofthenorth and pulling up Punta Prima, Hughes jumped aboard John Quinn’s Imperial Merlin for the concluding bumper.

Gold Miner and Brian Hughes on their way to victory
Gold Miner and Brian Hughes on their way to victory (Richard Sellers/PA)

Runner-up on his racecourse debut at Wetherby four weeks ago, the five-year-old comfortably went one better as the 30-100 favourite.

Hughes said: “I was kind of hoping that would be the 200th, but it’s not. He’s a nice horse and he’ll be a nice horse for next year.

“I’ve ridden winners for 33 different trainers and I’m very lucky I’ve got a lot of good owners and trainers supporting me.

“I must mention all the the staff in the yards, who are producing these horses. I always feel the stable staff don’t get enough credit and without them, you’d struggle to have the horses to ride.

“I’m just grateful for all the support I’ve had.”

Brian Hughes with Imperial Merlin at Sedgefield
Brian Hughes with Imperial Merlin at Sedgefield (Richard Sellers/PA)

The Northern Irishman’s quest now moves to Perth where he has five booked rides on Wednesday and another five on Thursday.

Hughes will also be in action at the Scottish track on Friday before on Saturday heading to Sandown, where he will be officially crowned champion jockey for the second time.

He added: “I think I’ll have 15 rides over the three days (at Perth), so please God something comes home in front.”

Dianne Sayer’s The Navigator (2-1) secured his third victory at Sedgefield in the Cazoo Search Drive Smile Handicap Hurdle, while Tim Easterby’s Cilluirid (9-2) made it four course wins in the Join Our Bet Club At vickers.bet Handicap Chase.

Sayer said of her winner: “He got the fast pace and the good ground and it all worked out well for him.

“He likes Sedgefield – he has a lot of confidence coming here.

“Musselburgh was really his big aim of the season and it’s fabulous to have him back winning again.”

First Revolution broke his duck at the 22nd attempt in the Vickers Bet Handicap Chase.

First Revolution passes the post in front
First Revolution passes the post in front (Richard Sellers/PA)

Given a confident ride by Craig Nichol, the 9-2 chance cruised into contention rounding the home turn and found enough from the final fence to score by a length and a quarter from Ar Mest.

Nichol was riding his 40th winner of the season, but it has been a more difficult campaign for trainer Martin Todhunter, with this just his fourth success.

He said: “It’s the worst season I’ve ever had. There’s been a few things and it’s just the way it’s gone, but hopefully it will pick up again.

“We just need a good horse. We had a problem with the feed and sorted that out. We’ve got some nice young horses coming through and some nice owners,so we’ll keep tipping away.”

Hughes keeps up the momentum in march to double century

Brian Hughes further boosted his quest to ride 200 winners this season with a Thursday double at Sedgefield.

It has long since been inevitable that the Northern Irishman will be crowned champion jockey for a second time at the end of the campaign, having ridden almost 100 winners more than current title holder Harry Skelton.

Hughes became the first northern-based jockey to ride 150 winners in a season when booting home a four-timer at Carlisle in February and now has his eyes firmly fixed on a magical double century.

The 36-year-old headed to County Durham with 184 winners under his belt – and soon made it 185 as he steered Donald McCain’s 1-4 favourite Red Vision to a clear-cut success in the opening novice hurdle.

He notched winner number 186 and made it two from two on the day for McCain – who is also in tremendous form and later made it a treble – in the following novice handicap chase, with 6-4 chance Away At Dawn passing the post with almost four lengths in hand.

Hughes and McCain had to make do with minor honours in race three, with 11-1 shot Blakeney Point finishing third behind 6-5 favourite Ashington.

His last mount of the day was aboard the Mick and David Easterby-trained En Couleur, who finished third in the finale.

Should Hughes reach 200 winners before the end of the season at Sandown on April 22, he will be only the fourth jump jockey to do so along with Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Peter Scudamore.

Hughes has 200 in his sights as winners continue to flow

Brian Hughes continued his relentless march towards being crowned champion jockey for a second time with victory aboard The Big Jetaway in the feature race at Sedgefield on Wednesday.

The County Armagh-born rider became the first northern-based jockey to hit 150 winners in a season after a Monday four-timer at Carlisle, beating Jonjo O’Neill’s best tally of 149.

“It was good to get to 150. I thought we’d get it a couple of times in the past, but I got injured in the last month of the season when I was well into the 140s,” said Hughes.

“It’s not a massive record when you see what AP (McCoy) and Dickie (Johnson) have done, but it’s the most anyone’s ridden in the north, so it’s something small I can maybe keep.

“Jonjo actually texted me and said ‘why has it taken so long’? It was something nice to do and hopefully we’re not done yet and can keep motoring on.”

With reigning champion Harry Skelton and Sam Twiston-Davies both in the 80s, Hughes is all but certain to regain the crown he lifted two seasons ago, while he is odds-on to become only the fourth National Hunt jockey to get to 200 winners after Peter Scudamore, Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson.

“Richard (Hale, agent) is revved and it would be great to do it. We need to stay fit and healthy and the horses need to stay in the same form,” the jockey added.

“We’ll try our best. My trainers have given me a lot of support, as has my agent, so fingers crossed.

“If it happens it would be brilliant and it if doesn’t, we’ve had a good year anyway.”

After finishing third in a maiden hurdle at Wetherby three and a half weeks ago, the Donald McCain-trained The Big Jetaway was the 6-4 favourite for his chasing debut under Rules in County Durham.

Despite jumping markedly right throughout, Itsalonglongroad gave a bold sight in front for much of the vickers.bet Handicap Chase, but Hughes’ mount came through to prevail by four and a half lengths.

Hughes said: “He’s very big for running round here and it’s his first season, so he’s still a little bit legs everywhere and stumbled both times on the top bend.

“It wasn’t a great race, but he’s got it done and hopefully on a fairer track he can improve a bit.”

Itsalonglongroad’s trainer John McConnell had earlier seen his Drumbear land prohibitive odds of 1-20 in the Cazoo Novices’ Hurdle.

A 10-length winner at Musselburgh early in the new year before finishing third at Down Royal, John McConnell’s runner was sent back across the Irish Sea for what appeared a straightforward assignment.

Sean Bowen’s mount quickly built up a big advantage over his three toiling rivals and barely had to come out of first gear to score by 24 lengths from rank outsider Joanna I’m Fine.

“That was horrible,” said Bowen.

“I’d ridden him in a bumper and he’s a pretty strong horse who can be keen and hang right and left. He kinds of works against you rather than with you.

“He was 1-20 and he got the job done, but it was hard work for me if not for him.”

Bowen’s father Peter and brother James later combined to win the Cazoo Search Drive Smile Handicap Chase 2-1 favourite Getastar.

James Bowen doubled up aboard Brian Ellison’s Leeswood Lily (7-2), who notched her second successive course and distance win in the Free Tips Daily On attheraces.com Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

Royle Steel was a surprise winner of the opening race
Royle Steel was a surprise winner of the opening race (Ashley Iveson/PA)

Royle Steel was a shock 80-1 winner of the Visit attheraces.com Maiden Hurdle.

Although not disgraced on his bumper debut at Doncaster in November, the four-year-old finished a long way behind stablemate Bonne Vitesse when fifth on his first start over hurdles at Wetherby last month.

But given a patient ride by Alain Cawley, Micky Hammond’s charge could be spotted making eyecatching headway halfway up the straight and finished to good effect to score by three-quarters of a length.

Hammond said: “He ran really well on his debut, but over-raced a little bit, then we went to Wetherby for his first run over hurdles and he didn’t settle and was keen.

“We said we’d wait until the spring for better ground, but obviously the weather has been so dry and spring has come early. I think Christmas has come early as well with him winning today!”

The Susan Corbett-trained Atomic Angel was a 15-2 winner of the Sky Sports Racing Virgin 535 Handicap Hurdle under Sam Coltherd, while Demi Sang justified 2-1 favouritism in the Subscribe To AtTheRaces On YouTube Handicap Hurdle for Sara Ender and 7lb claimer Jack Hogan.

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.

Sedgefield abandoned – after four inspections

Sedgefield was forced to abandon Monday’s meeting after a fourth inspection of the course – which took place at 12.30pm, the initial scheduled time of the first race.

Hopes rose for much of the morning that temperatures would increase sufficiently to allow the seven-race card to go ahead, having dipped to -2C overnight.

But they never did so, as the winter sun faded and cloud cover moved back in – with frost still in the ground.

After an initial inspection on Sunday afternoon, the announcement of another at 8.30am – put back to 10am – and then two more, the abandonment was finally confirmed on Sedgefield’s official Twitter feed.

It read: “Unfortunately racing today is abandoned.”

Clerk of the course Michael Naughton said: “The stewards took everything into account, and it was just the odd patches that were still frozen. It wasn’t worth taking the risk for safety reasons.

“It had improved, and the sun is back out again. In another hour we may have been OK, but we couldn’t put it back any further and have another inspection.”

In the hours up to 12.30, it was clear several trainers were not prepared to let their horses take part – with 26 non-runners announced because of the going.

Naughton added: “It was just patches of the course that were giving us problems.

“The majority of the course was OK. There were a couple of patches where the clouds went against us. At one point cloud cover came over, and it started cooling down again. Everything that could go against us did go against us.

“There was nothing more we could do. A lot of people made the effort to get here, so we thought we’d push it to the wire if we can and see what we could do.”

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick has been called off because of waterlogging.

There will be an inspection on Tuesday morning for Thursday’s card at Wincanton, where there is standing water and further rain forecast on heavy ground.

Sedgefield faces fourth inspection

Sedgefield’s meeting on Monday hinges on a fourth inspection at the track – at 12.30pm, which was initially the scheduled time of the opening race.

The course passed an initial check on Sunday afternoon, as frozen conditions began to improve, with a second inspection announced for 830am on Monday.

That was put back by an hour and a half, however, in the hope that temperatures would continue to rise – having dipped to minus 2C overnight.

The course was still not raceable, though, and it was announced a further inspection must take place at 11.30am.

That too was inconclusive, and a Tweet on Sedgefield’s official feed read: “We’re doing everything we can to help our fixture go ahead so we’ll be having a further inspection at 12.30pm.”

The ground is described as heavy for the scheduled seven-race card.

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick is off because of waterlogging.

There will be an inspection on Tuesday morning for Thursday’s card at Wincanton, where there is standing water and further rain forecast on heavy ground.

Sedgefield waits on mid-morning inspection

Sedgefield’s meeting on Monday hinges on a 10am inspection.

The course passed an initial check on Sunday afternoon, as frozen conditions began to improve, with a second inspection announced for 830am on Monday.

That was put back by an hour and a half, however, in the hope that temperatures will continue to rise – having dipped to minus 2C overnight.

A Tweet from the course read: “Inspection has been pushed to 10am. Temperatures are set to rise above 0 before 9am”.

The going is described as heavy for the scheduled seven-race card.

There were mixed outcomes from two inspections elsewhere on Monday morning, for Wednesday’s racing.

Exeter’s card was abandoned because of waterlogging, after 17mm of rain since Sunday morning.

Warwick may yet go ahead, however, as standing water receded – but the meeting will be subject to a second check at 2pm on Tuesday, with further rain forecast.

In Ireland, Tuesday’s meeting at Limerick is off because of waterlogging.

Rebecca Menzies celebrates first career treble at Sedgefield

Rebecca Menzies was thrilled to saddle her first treble at Sedgefield on Wednesday.

Based less than five miles from the County Durham venue at Howe Hills Farm, which she rents from former trainer John Wade, Menzies learned her trade with the late Ferdy Murphy before become the youngest ever female trainer in Britain in 2013.

The 30-year-old broke the £1million barrier in prize-money earned when Tabou Beach Boy won at Musselburgh in January of this year, and claimed the biggest winner of her career to date when Stormy Girl landed the Listed Flying Fillies’ Stakes at Pontefract in August.

Reflecting on her latest milestone, she said: “It’s been a brilliant day and it’s great all the winners were for John Wade, who was here today.

“I’m so grateful to John, who has invested a lot of money into the yard this year in terms of facilities and also into his bloodstock.

“He has some nice, young horses who will hopefully takes us to the bigger days, which is what it’s all about.”

The first of the three winners on the card for Menzies, Wade and jockey Henry Brooke was Return Ticket (15-8), who dominated from the front in the Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 Novices’ Chase.

Little over an hour later Raecius Felix (3-1) secured a hard-fought victory in the Watch Sky Sports Racing In HD Handicap Chase, before She’s A Dancer obliged as the 13-8 favourite in the Download The At The Races App Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Menzies – whose day got even better when Twisted Dreams won at Newcastle’s evening meeting – added: “Return Ticket and Raecius Felix are two horses that John bought privately from his friend Richard Collins over the summer. Richard had a bit of a dispersal, John bought a few off him and Richard was racing as well today, which was good.

“All the horses appreciated the drying ground and everything has clicked into place. Henry gave them all good rides.”

While she has enjoyed success on the Flat, Menzies views herself as predominantly a National Hunt trainer and is looking forward to the winter with optimism.

She said: “I thought through the summer this was going to be the best team of jumpers that we’ve had for the winter. I was excited about them, but it takes until October/November to get rolling, so it’s nice to have some on the board already.

“We have around 35 jumpers that will be running through the winter. We have a good few Flat horses, but the bulk of them will be going to the sales at the end of the month and hopefully we’ll get some fresh ones in for next year.”