Horse racing: Northern power-horse Seeyouatmidnight deserves credit

Jockey Brian Hughes riding Seeyouatmidnight
Seeyouatmidnight has won seven races with, the most recent win coming at Carlisle

Jockey Brian Hughes believes the reputation of Seeyouatmidnight, the brightest hope on jump racing's Northern and Scottish circuit, is a victim of the sport's ever-growing north/south divide.

The eight-year-old, trained in Berwickshire, Scotland by Sandy Thomson, faces his biggest test to date when lining up in Haydock's Betfair Chase.

The list of opponents in yet another high-quality staging of the Grade One race is due to include dual winners Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti and the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree as he returns from a year off because of injury.

Seeyouatmidnight, on whom Hughes will wear the black, yellow and white silks of the trainer's wife Quona, is the winner of seven races, most recently when putting in a striking display at Carlisle in October.

All that said, it's probably fair to say that the horse, who was also third in Scotland's Grand National in April, has not yet registered with the wider racing public.

And despite demonstrating his good form so recently, and having snow-softened ground conditions in his favour, he's received only limited coverage in the build-up to Haydock, the first leg - before Kempton's King George VI Chase at Christmas and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March - in the Jockey Club's £1m 'Steeplechasing Triple Crown'.

Jockey Brian Hughes riding Seeyouatmidnight
Brian Hughes has had a great run of form, with a string of wins including a rare five-timer, plus two seconds, from seven mounts at Musselburgh

Hughes, himself just about the most in-form rider in the country after a string of wins including a rare five-timer, plus two seconds, from seven mounts at Musselburgh in Betfair Chase week, told BBC Sport:

"I just feel that the horse never got the credit he deserved [after Carlisle]. If he was ridden by a top jockey - your Ruby Walshes or your Richard Johnsons or Barry Geraghty - and trained by a big Southern trainer, he might have been more in the press.

"At the end of the day I think the world of this horse - Sandy and his wife worship him - and it's great for us and our careers to be part of him.

"I think the horse deserves his chance to be there but obviously we respect the opposition because of them winning Grade Ones, and we haven't. On ratings, we have to find a bit, but it's only his second season [chasing] and hopefully he can improve.

"We're coming here off the back of a good run and hoping that he can mix it with these good horses."

Hughes, 31, by quite some way leading jockey on the Northern circuit from the currently side-lined Henry Brooke, is seen as the 'professional's professional', a jockey who's enjoyed considerable success but who's renowned for keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

All of which made his jubilant reaction to Seeyouatmidnight disposing of his sole rival at Carlisle, the talented Bristol De Mai, the more eye-catching.

The horse felt, he enthused, like "driving a Ferrari" and having "never touched a twig [of the obstacles]" he believed that he'd "never come up the hill as fast as that. Ever."

Reflecting on those quotes, Hughes, who's looking for his first victory at Grade One level, said:

"Looking back, I probably got a bit over-excited, but the way he was just lobbing his way round impressed me, and then when I asked from the third-last he surprised me; Carlisle is a steep hill and he powered up it.

"I've not had that many nice horses to ride but he feels like a very nice horse, and I hope that he can show the public how good we believe he is."

Victory at this level for the horse that's become something of a standard-bearer in his region would come at an opportune time.

No one doubts the ability of national hunt trainers based north of the Trent, but the fact remains it's short on major investors, and most of the racehorse owners with the biggest cheque books tend to look to stables in the south.

Jockey Brian Hughes riding Seeyouatmidnight
Brian Hughes is looking for his first victory at Grade One Level

Apart from Seeyouatmidnight, one can see few others taking on the power of the south at the springtime festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree: probably only the Malcolm Jefferson-trained Cloudy Dream - another Hughes mount - Simply Ned and Eduard, both part of the Nicky Richards team, and possibly Grand National hope Highland Lodge.

It's all rather ironic because the word regularly used about flat racing in the north of England and Scotland is "flourishing"; all too often similar chat about jumping includes early mention of the description "beleaguered".

Work to try to improve things is underway, and the latest initiative, specially designed to provide an incentive to owners, is the 'Northern Lights Series', various series of races staged at courses north of Doncaster with a finals day at Carlisle in December 2017.

A big win in the meantime for a Scottish horse like Seeyouatmidnight would add priceless extra publicity.

+ Coverage of the Betfair Chase, Haydock on BBC 5 Live on Sat 19 Nov at 15:00 GMT

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