Just over a fortnight remains in the 2020/21 Jump Jockeys’ Championship race in Britain and the battle for glory is in full swing.
MansionBet ambassador Brian Hughes has a real scrap on his hands to retain the crown, with Harry Skelton in full cry trying to be crowned Britain’s No.1 jumps rider for the first time in his career.
Hughes Hoping to Extend Reign
Hughes last season became only the third champion jockey crowned in Britain since 1995. That, of course was down to the utter domination of one AP McCoy, the kingpin for two uninterrupted decades in a remarkable era of domination.
McCoy fended off his friend and great rival Richard Johnson no less than 16 times. When he eventually called time in 2015, it was fittingly Johnson that succeeded him; and he’d go on to retain the mantle on three further occasions.
Hughes took over last year and – just last weekend – Johnson hung up his silks for the final time at Newton Abbot when he announced his immediate retirement.
Hughes will be desperate not to stop the trend of first-time winners retaining the mantle – before McCoy and Johnson, both Peter Scudamore (seven straight wins) and Richard Dunwoody (three straight wins) had held their perch after ascending to the top.
Hughes Ready to ‘Go To The End’
Hanging on to the crown won’t be easy for northern-based rider Hughes. As of Tuesday, just one win splits him (134) from Skelton (133) in second spot, while Harry Cobden (121) is surely now left with too much ground to make up behind them.
With the Grand National Festival at Aintree this week, both Skelton and Hughes may find the relentless recent momentum checked, as winners will be harder to come by on Merseyside.
The champion knows the scrap may go to the final bell at Sandown on Jumps Finale day on the final Saturday in April, but he insists it remains key to focus on each race on its merits.
“It looks as if the race will go down to the wire. Everyone in my camp is trying their best, we’ll go to the end,” he said this week.
“We’ll keep our head down and what will be, will be. I’m obviously going to try very hard to retain it, I don’t want last year to be a one off.
“The title is one thing, but going into any race, you can’t go in with a clouded judgement of things like the title race.”
Skelton Chasing Breakthrough
Skelton’s agent Ian Popham, meanwhile, suggests the battle is something his rider is relishing.
“I know Harry’s loving being a part of it all, it’s a position he’s always dreamed of being in. It’d be fantastic if we can do it, but at the same time we’ll just keep working hard and doing what we’re doing and that’s all we can control,” he said.
Like Hughes, Skelton is getting plenty of support from trainers in his quest to fire in winners and both are set to be at Aintree this week for their big meeting.
Hughes will be there Thursday and Saturday, while he has confirmed plans to ride elsewhere on Friday.
Aintree Contenders Key for Momentum
On Thursday afternoon, Hughes rides Waiting Patiently for trainer Ruth Jefferson in the Betway Aintree Bowl, a Grade 1 over three-miles-and-furlong. Second in the King George at Christmas, this will be his second try at the distance and the Merseyside track is expected to suit Hughes’ mount.
While a Grade 1 winner doesn’t carry any extra significance in the title race, at least numerically, it could be the confidence-booster that propels Hughes through the final fortnight of the season.
The Skelton yard will also be strongly represented at Aintree with My Drogo, a leading player in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday afternoon.
In the Randox Health Grand National itself on Saturday, Hughes is on board the Nick Alexander-trained Lake View Lad (
33/1), while Skelton may partner Blaklion (
80/1) for his brother Dan in the big race.
Whatever happens between now and Saturday evening in the Grand National, it seems sure that the duel between Hughes and Skelton to be crowned champion jockey is going to go right down to the wire.
*All odds correct at time of writing