Brian Hughes: New champion jockey doesn't see himself 'as a legend'

By Grant CameronBBC Sport NI
Brian Hughes
Brian Hughes had 141 wins when the season was halted on 17 March

Brian Hughes' biggest regret after landing his first champion jockey accolade was not being able to celebrate the achievement with his parents back home in County Armagh.

Normally the award is presented at the end-of-season meeting at Sandown, but with the suspension of racing until July because of the coronavirus outbreak, his father Brian and mother Mary are missing out.

"They have selflessly supported me over the years and shared in my successes but this time it is not to be," he said, reflecting on the fulfilment of his lifelong dream.

"It is sad that because of the cancellation we don't have that great day of celebration," said Brian.

"They had booked to come over and we would have enjoyed the occasion together."

But the Newtownhamilton man's disappointment gives way to reality: "I suppose worse things are going on with this virus and when you see people losing their lives it is a stark leveller," he added.

Hughes is relieved to finally be declared the 2019-20 winner but concedes the celebrations were somewhat downplayed in the circumstances.

"To be honest I'm not the biggest party person anyway. I don't drink or smoke and I'm pretty much always keeping an eye on staying in shape as part of the job," he admitted.

The 34-year-old was leading defending champion Richard Johnson by 19 winners on 141 victories before the season was brought to a premature end - somewhat ironically on St. Patrick's Day, 17 March, when the British Horseracing Authority announced the suspension of racing because of the coronavirus crisis.

Brian Hughes
Hughes has been a regular in the winners' circle in recent seasons

Modest Hughes appreciates there are similarities between himself and record 20-time winner AP McCoy who he admired from boyhood growing up in Northern Ireland.

"AP was a hell of a lot better jockey than me. 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.

"They are legends of the sport and I don't see myself as a legend."

Confirmation of his success came exactly one year to the day since his daughter was born.

Hours after his teacher wife Lucy gave birth to their second child, Olivia, on Grand National day last season, Hughes broke his jaw in a fall at Newcastle. While Lucy was in hospital in Middlesbrough, he was in hospital in Newcastle.

'Out in a tractor rolling the fields when word came through'

Twelve months on and he spends much more time with them and two-and-a-half-year-old son Rory.

He said: "It's not easy, filling in the days, as there's only so much you can do at home. The kids do keep us busy.

"Like everyone else, we've not done a great deal else these last few weeks.

"We live on Lucy's father's farm, though, so that's really helpful as it keeps us active. I can go out there and help out.

"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.

"There are 3,500 sheep, cows and horses but I am only the groom when it comes to the horses! It helps keep my mind active. I can be terribly restless.

"It also stops me making too many trips to the fridge although weight is not a problem for me, thankfully!"

'Not being able to race is difficult'

Living without racing is a challenge: "Not being able to race is difficult and you try not to think about it too much. I'm also keeping fit every day by going for a run first thing in the morning.

"I haven't been away from the job very often in my career except for injuries and I have been fortunate not to have had any significant setbacks."

Brian's other big regret is that his title success has arrived five wins short of his best ever total but that is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.

'A dream come true'

"This is a dream come true," he continued. "My phone has been buzzing non stop since the announcement was made."

Based in Cleveland for more than a decade, Brian is well aware how much it means to the racing fraternity around him.

"I am the first jockey living in the north of England to do this in 40 years. They have waited a long time!

As fate would have it...the last jockey to achieve similar status in that neck of the wood was another Irish great, Jonjo O'Neill.

Yes, history does have a way of repeating itself.

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