HARD work and dedication often gets rewarded, writes Lucy Russell-Hughes.
But North Yorkshire-based jump jockey Brian Hughes, who regularly races horses from Malton’s Jefferson stable, has gone further.
He has proven time and time again of his talent in the saddle and he has now been recognised as the best in the country in his discipline as he was officially crowned champion jump jockey earlier this month after riding 141 winners during the 2019/2020 season.
But this hasn’t stopped Hughes, he is in the form of his life, he proves hungrier than ever and he may have only just got started.
“For me personally it is something that I am very proud of, when you start out it is something you dream about becoming champion jockey and the next dream would be to retain it,” he said.
His continued drive and commitment to the sport will only enhance his chances of retaining next year’s title.
Not only has Hughes won the championship for the first time in his career but in doing so he has become the first northern based rider to achieve this feat since Jonjo O’Neil 40 years ago.
A natural talent, all the patience in the world down to a fence and quite simply the ultimate horsemen, there are very few jockeys more deserving of this title.
The 34-year-old was 19 winners clear before the season was cut short last month due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Due to end on April 25 at Sandown, national hunt racing has been postponed until at least July 1, but the recent announcement of Hughes clinching the title has rallied much praise among Yorkshire and racing personnel.
“He’s been on an upward trajectory for such a long time and it’s so nice to see someone who has such burning ambition achieve their dreams,” said Malton trainer Ruth Jefferson.
Ruth took over the training license from her father Malcolm who sadly passed away in 2018 after becoming a huge part of Hughes’ success on the track.
Their journey together as trainer and jockey was masterful and put Hughes on the map.
“Brian and Dad grew together as a team and that helped him progress as a jockey,” said Ruth who sees the championship as vindication of her father’s faith in the talented rider.
Hughes has remained loyal to the Jefferson team and their success together continues to this day, as highlighted when Clondaw Caitlin was victorious in a valuable Grade Two event at Kelso in February.
However, perhaps one of his most high profile and poignant victories as a jockey came aboard Waiting Patiently in the Grade One Ascot Chase in February 2018, just a day after Malcolm was laid to rest.
After crossing the winning line that day, Hughes looked up to the sky, making a gesture, an intended message for the former trainer.
Reflecting on their early memories Hughes said: “Malcolm was a massive influence in my career. There were some great days and the yard got bigger with some nice horses and we had some nice winners.”
For the majority of this season, Hughes fought out a tremendous tussle with four-time champion and the second most successful national hunt jockey of all-time, Richard Johnson.
The pair were head to head for the most part before Johnson broke his arm in a fall at Exeter in January.
Hughes said: “I’ve knocked on the door a few times and it’s great to have won, hopefully it is a positive for northern racing. I’ve had a lot of support from northern trainers, owners, and stable staff and even general racegoers were always wishing me well throughout.”
“Most importantly it is the staff that look after the horses on a daily basis that provide me with horses to be competitive with all season.”
Born in Northern Ireland, Hughes began his racing career in his native land before moving to Yorkshire in 2005 and has never looked back. His name has become only the third in 25 years to be carved onto the championship winning trophy after jump jockeys AP McCoy and Johnson.
“It’s down to a lot of people that I have been able to get to this moment in my life,” said Hughes.
“The top five trainers I ride for this year have supplied me with over a 110 winners, it’s great,” he added.
Champion conditional over a decade ago in the 2007/2008 season, Hughes has grown and come a long way since then. Although this year will be remembered for all it’s glory it will also be remembered for his livelihood turning upside down.
From title chasing to home stricken, as a jockey Hughes has had to quickly adapt to life in lockdown as his season on the track was curtailed.
“I would have preferred to still be racing and carry on until the end of the season, but with all the sporting events that have been cancelled and the way the whole world is reacting to the coronavirus I can understand why racing was stopped and rightly so because obviously the NHS is struggling,” he said.