Brian Hughes Profile
|Born||Jun 27, 1985|
|Birthplace||Newtownhamilton, Northern Ireland|
Hughes became first northern-based star in 40 years to win the National Hunt Jockeys' Championship.
Brian Hughes is a jockey who looks set to step into the void left by Northern Irish compatriot AP McCoy. His much-lauded work ethic famously led Hughes to ride out on the gallops on the morning of his wedding.
Hughes won the jump jockeys' championship in 2020 and is well on the way to the 2021 title. He is a particular asset to northern racing in the UK, being the first champion jockey based in the north of England since Jonjo O'Neill in 1980.
Hughes' success is all the more hard-earned given he rides mostly for less publicised northern trainers, such as Nicky Richards and Donald McCain.
Waiting Patiently proved an apt name for his only Grade One victory to date, winning on the Ruth Jefferson-trained horse in 2018.
"I'll go anywhere to ride a winner," Hughes once said, highlighting the tenacity of the jockey with more 1,000 winners to his name.
Northern Irish inspiration
Growing up, Hughes had ample racing inspiration in the form of fellow Northern Irishmen Tony Dobbin and the legendary AP McCoy.
By 14, Hughes was riding out for local trainer James Lambe and schooling over fences at Down Royal.
He left school at 16 and attended the RACE jockey's academy in Kildare and was fortunate to be placed with top trainer Kevin Prendergast. Hughes wanted to be a flat jockey but, after four years under the tutelage of Curragh trainer Prendergast, it was clear that he was going to be too heavy to ride on the flat.
Switching to National Hunt racing, Hughes went back to James Lambe and had his first run over hurdles on Boxing Day 2003, finishing 11th out of 15 runners on Boley's Pride.
Hughes moved from Northern Ireland to England in 2005. He began to ride for Howard Johnson and won his first race in England on Bob Justice at Wetherby in December 2005.
He cites jockey Graham Lee, whom he raced alongside for Johnson, as an inspiration. Lee won the Grand National on Amberleigh House and later made the opposite switch by changing to the flat but had made an impression on a young Hughes with his composure in the saddle.
It wasn't plain sailing for Hughes, however, He won just three times from 120 rides in 2006/07 and even considered quitting and returning to Ireland.
But Hughes was a natural-born fighter, having survived meningitis as a young child, and he showed his grit by sticking to the task. He was rewarded by winning the conditional jumps jockeys' championship in 2007/08.
A willingness to travel pays dividends
Hughes' willingness to travel long distances in search of winning rides across the north of England and Scotland stood him in good stead and his proving grounds were tracks like Market Rasen, Sedgefield and Perth, testing his milometer on his car as well as opposing jockeys.
A decent win came on August 31, 2008 in the Weatherby's Bank Wensleydale Juvenile Novices' Hurdle on Resounding Glory for Richard Fahey. He beat old boss Howard Johnson's horse Silk Drum and picked up a cool £10,261.80.
That win gave Hughes a taste for larger prizes and he increased the winning purse by landing the Toteswinger Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, again for Fahey, on Joe Jo Star in May 2009.
"It's pure greed. The more you have, the more you want, and so I'm never happy," he told the London Evening Standard about the addictiveness of victory. "And you can't dwell on the successes, it's always about tomorrow."
He showed his ability over the National fences at Aintree in the 2010 Topham Chase with a solid 12-length win on Always Waining for Peter Bowen.
His old boss Kevin Prendergast gave him the call to ride the talented Katie T in the 2015 BoyleSports Hurdle at Leopardstown and Hughes rewarded the loyalty with a two-length win from Modem for the 60,000 euros prize.
Hughes' first Grade One win came on February 17, 2018, on Waiting Patiently in the Betfair Ascot Chase (pictured). The win was an emotional one, coming only a day after the funeral of Malcolm Jefferson, who trained the horse before his daughter Ruth took over after his passing. Hughes pointed skywards after beating Cue Card in a poignant gesture of remembrance for Jefferson.
"Malcolm's done a lot for me personally, he's helped my career a long way," Hughes told Racing TV. "I mean, I was riding a good number of winners before I went to Malcolm and then started getting more and more rides and getting on better types of horses, started riding a hundred winners a season and we started growing togetherâ€¦ (he was) a brilliant trainer."
Success at the Cheltenham Festival
An up-and-coming jockey like Hughes was always going to turn his attention to the Cheltenham Festival and the Northern Irishman now has three victories at the Prestbury Park marquee event.
His first was a characteristically-dogged win on 33/1 outsider Hawk High for Tim Easterby in the 2014 Fred Winter hurdle. Hughes tracked the leaders stealthily and produced his mount to win by three-quarters of a length from Katgary for owner Trevor Hemmings.
Hughes' second Cheltenham Festival win came in 2016 aboard the Ian Williams-trained Ballyalton in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (pictured). Again, he beat a Paul Nicholls-trained horse into second place, driving his 12/1 chance to gain a hard-fought half-length victory over Bouvreuil.
The Close Brothers' Chase proved a rich quarry for Hughes as he was back in 2018 for Mick Channon to take the race on Mister Whitaker. This time the starting price was 13/2 for the Hughes winner.
Cheltenham 2021 will be an important event for Hughes as he bids to increase his number of Festival and Grade One wins.
Claiming the National Hunt Jockeys' Championship
With AP McCoy retiring in 2015, the door was open for a new top dog in the British jumps racing scene and only Richard Johnson stood in Hughes' way.
The determined Johnson took the jumps jockeys' championship for four straight seasons after McCoy's retirement. However, Hughes has the advantage in age, being in his mid-30s while Johnson is over 40 in a sport unkind on ageing bones.
In 2019-20, Hughes registered 141 winners, and he was duly crowned champion.
Hughes had been neck and neck with the seasoned Johnson but his rival broke his arm in a fall, leaving the door open to the Northern Irishman.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hughes was unable to pick up the trophy for winning the title but former jockey Mick Fitzgerald was on hand to present the silverware at Hughes' home near Middlesbrough.
"AP was a hell of a lot better jockey than me," Hughes told BBC Sport. "So is Richard Johnson. I am humbled to be mentioned in the same sentence as them but I am immensely proud to be going down in the history books as champion jockey."
King of the North
When Brian Hughes became champion jockey in 2020, he was the first northern-based jockey for 40 years to do so. Not since Jonjo O'Neill in 1980 had a National Hunt jockey operating out of the north of England claimed the top spot.
The task was all the more difficult for Hughes without rides for top southern-based trainers such as Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. Instead, Hughes had to win the hard way by picking up rides for less-monied trainers across the north.
Hughes has ridden winners for many northern trainers, including Nicky Richards, Donald McCain, Tim Easterby, Oliver Greenall, Richard Fahey, Ruth Jefferson and Brian Ellison.
"I feel there are 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," Hughes told the Great British Racing website.
Brian Hughes' personal life
Hughes is married to Luci and together they have two children, Rory and Olivia.
He was famously on the gallops on the morning of his wedding.
Speaking on that subject, Hughes told the London Evening Standard: "I rode out that morning as it was probably the safest place to be with a lot of crazy women around arguing with each other!"
Hughes lives on the family farm of his wife's parents.
"You wouldn't believe where I was when the official call came through that I had won the title - out in a tractor rolling the fields on the farm," he told BBC Sport of the day he was declared champion jumps jockey.