Brian Hughes wins champion jockey title from Richard Johnson

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Brian Hughes
Brian Hughes won 141 races this season

Brian Hughes has been confirmed as jump racing's champion jockey for the first time, taking the title from four-time winner Richard Johnson.

Hughes, 34, was successful in 141 races during the season that ended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, while Johnson was runner-up with 122.

Jonjo O'Neill junior, with 61 wins, is top conditional rider.

Nicky Henderson won the trainers' championship for the sixth time, with JP McManus the leading racehorse owner.

Hughes is the first champion other than Johnson or AP McCoy since Richard Dunwoody 25 years ago and the first northern-based winner since Jonjo O'Neill senior in 1980.

Johnson had been champion since first winning the title in 2016 after finishing runner-up 16 times to 20-time winner McCoy.

All Flat racing has been suspended by the British Horseracing Authority until at least 1 May, while there will be no jump racing before July.

Hughes 'living the dream'

Despite being denied his moment in the end-of-season Sandown spotlight when the champion Jockey is officially crowned, Hughes says he is "living the dream" after being confirmed as this season's winner.

"It has always been a dream of mine to become champion Jockey, so to have finally achieved it is fantastic, especially when you look at the calibre of riders who have won it before me, including Tony McCoy.

"It is obviously a little disappointing that we haven't been able to see out the season as we were all looking forward to that.

"There were some big race days to look forward to but current circumstances are out of all our hands and racing is no different."

The County Armagh man added: "When you consider what is going on across the world now, I think about how fortunate I am when I see how serious things are for so many people."

'Great support from back home'

Hughes, who is based in Cleveland in the north of England, celebrated his achievement by simply helping out his wife Lucy's father on his farm and answering a deluge of congratulatory messages and phone calls from family, friends and well-wishers.

"Perhaps it has been a little bit of an anti-climax in the way the official news has come but it is what it is and I am still very proud.

"I've had such great support from back home too, I know how much it means to everybody and they have been fantastic for many years.

"I can't wait to get back out riding again. It looks like it might be July now but we will just have to be patient."

Johnson, who broke an arm in a fall at Exeter earlier in the season, added: "Brian has been in terrific form all season and was really able to open up a gap between himself and the rest of us chasing him."

"It is a huge moment for any rider to become champion jockey and I know that all of us in the weighing room will look forward to formally congratulating Brian when the presentation is made to him later in the year."

Analysis

This is a deserved reward for Brian Hughes who works so hard that, famously, he 'rode out' on the gallops before his wedding.

Industry as well as talent has been a hallmark of the top rider on jump racing's Northern circuit, who wouldn't think twice about squeezing in a day trip to, say, Exeter between a couple of fixtures closer to home.

I recall meeting him when walking the course before racing at Ayr, and he was busy reeling off form and analysis of every runner. Homework, a great work ethic and great skills have seen him defeat Richard Johnson.

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