Read Brian Hughes exclusively at VBET
Like all natural-born winners, Brian Hughes’ stunning career has been about the journey – not the destination. Born in Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, 34-year-old Brian at first wanted to become a Flat jockey and gained crucial experience at RACE, the Irish Turf Club’s renowned racing academy.
It was from there that he began his career under the wise tutelage of legendary Curragh trainer Kevin Prendergast, to whom he was attached for four years. But weight issues meant the Flat was never going to be a suitable vocation for a man that was destined for National Hunt racing.
Co Tyrone trainer James Lambe was one of the key players in Brian’s early career over jumps. Lambe spotted the talent and gave him the chance to shine at the biggest racecourses in Ireland. Suitably inspired, and now with the confidence that he could make the grade in the fiercely competitive world of National Hunt racing, Brian relocated to the north of England in 2005.
With his composed riding style allied to a tireless work ethic, Brian made an instant impact in the UK.
Brian finished the 2005-06 jumps season with 11 winners, but he was soon to find out how difficult the job could be. With opportunities at Howard Johnson’s yard restricted following the appointment of Paddy Brennan as stable jockey, Brian could only gain three victories the next campaign.
He was in a bad place and even considered giving up riding and returning to Ireland.
But natural-born winners do not quit. And Brian Hughes is a natural-born winner. Having already established many important contacts in the north of England, Brian left Johnson’s yard and went freelance. And the rest, as the old cliché goes, is history.
Brian suddenly became a man in demand. And little wonder. With the likes of Alan Swinbank, John Wade, Jimmy Moffatt and Dianne Sayer desperate for his services, Brian finished the 2007-08 season with 39 winners.
But, much more importantly, he had done enough that campaign to become crowned UK champion conditional jockey.
And that’s when Brian began to be taken seriously. For the next six season, he rode no fewer than 44 winners, with the high-water mark at that stage of his career arriving in the 2013-14 campaign. Brian finished the season with 86 winners, but he also secured a landmark first Cheltenham Festival victory when Hawk High struck in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Before that, though, he had already savoured four Grade Two triumphs – perhaps most notably aboard the mighty Tidal Bay in the 2010 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Two victories over the fearsome Grand National fences at Aintree in the same year – Always Waining won the Topham, while Frankie Figg dazzled in the Grand Sefton – also illustrated that Brian was a man on a mission.
And so it proved. Hawk High’s Cheltenham Festival victory propelled Brian to a wider audience, with the riding offers across every corner of the UK coming thick and fast. Given a significant helping hand from wise jockeys’ agent Richard Hale, Brian rode over 100 winners for the next five seasons.
Indeed, he was once again on the mark at the Cheltenham Festival when Ballyalton won the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2016. And yet the records continued to tumble.
In February 2018, Brian secured a first Grade One triumph when the Ruth Jefferson-trained Waiting Patiently claimed top honours in the Betfair Ascot Chase. That victory was particularly emotive as Ruth’s father, Malcolm – a man to whom Brian owes so much – died earlier in the month. Indeed, only 24 hours earlier when Waiting Patiently won, the northern racing fraternity and beyond had gathered for Jefferson’s funeral.
With Ruth Jefferson as acutely aware as her late father about Brian’s priceless skills, the new partnership flourished and the winners continued to flow. A third Cheltenham Festival victory followed just a month after Waiting Patiently won at Ascot when the Mick Channon-trained Mister Whitaker surged clear in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Brian finished the 2017-18 season on 142 winners, and, incredulously, bettered that tally the following campaign with 146 triumphs.
Brian is now firmly on course to surpass that figure as he bids to win the jockeys’ championship for the first time.
If he manages to usurp Richard Johnson, who has won the championship for the last four years, it will be Brian’s defining moment in the saddle.
Brian, who lives in Carlton in Cleveland with wife Lucy and children Rory and Olivia, would also become the first jockey based in the north of England to claim the title since Jonjo O’Neill emerged victorious over 40 years ago.
VBET will be with him every step of the way as he provides crucial insight into his weekend rides every Friday.
Brian will additionally issue daily bulletins on his rides at the Cheltenham Festival in March and the Aintee Grand National Festival in April.
He will also be offering prize giveaways and stimulating interaction with punters and racing fanatics via VBET’s social media channels.
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