Sport

Champion jockey Brian Hughes turns his focus to July resumption

Champion jockey Brian Hughes won't begin the defence of his title until July at the earliest after the BHA cancelled all National Hunt fixtures until then
By Martin McGoran

WHEN Brian Hughes is presented with the trophy for winning his first jump jockeys' title it won't be with the fanfare which normally surrounds such an achievement.

Had the 2019-20 National Hunt season finished as planned and Hughes protected his lead of 19 (141-122) over defending champion Richard Johnson until April 25, that date would have been the biggest day of the Armagh man's professional career.

As it is, he still awaits an official announcement from the British Horseracing Authority that he is the champion, with the sport's governing body understandably focusing on trying to get the Flat season up and running.

May 1 is the somewhat optimistic date pencilled in for that, but what is definite is that Hughes and his fellow jump jockeys won't be back in action until July 1 at the earliest.

That is something that has occupied Hughes' thoughts more since it was announced on Thursday than him missing out on his big day.

‘‘I did an online chat with Richard Johnson recently and he said that final day at Sandown when much of the focus was on the champion was such a special feeling,'' says Hughes.

‘‘He said he was gutted for me that I wouldn't get to experience that side of it. I suppose it is a bit annoying that there won't be the whole presentation of the trophy with my family there, but listen, in the grand scheme of things, and for what we are going through in the world, it's not that big a deal.

‘‘Maybe if we get going again in July and the current restrictions are eased a bit they will have something, but it will be strange.''

The decision to extend the suspension of National Hunt fixtures until July has ‘‘at least given us a date to focus on and removed any uncertainty'', but it has also left a lot of jockeys facing a difficult few months financially.

Hughes, as part of the committee of the Professional Jockeys' Association, is directly involved in fighting on their behalf for financial assistance to ease the impact of the shutdown, with ‘‘progress being made''.

‘‘Nothing is final, but we are very lucky that the Professional Jockeys' Association has contingency plans to provide jockeys with a bit of earning to make up for this time off the track,'' he says.

‘‘We all have families to look after. I don't take things for granted but I'm maybe in a more fortunate position than some of the other guys, who might have less to get them through this.

‘‘Everybody is feeling it at the minute. Jockeys, trainers, owners, people at the racecourses like catering companies, pundits..it's a global crisis. Even in my own family, I've a sister who has been laid off from her job working in a store that was deemed as non-essential.

‘‘It would be great for racing if they could get the Flat going again by May and get the Classics run. I don't know how realistic it is but, just like the call the BHA made to put us back until July, it will be made for the right reasons with all the information that is available.''

With at least three months to kick his heels before beginning the defence of his title, Hughes has plenty on his plate at his base in north Yorkshire to keep himself occupied.

‘‘Myself and my wife (Luci) and our two young kids are very remote where we live. We are on a farm so isolating ourselves isn't difficult.

‘‘I'm running every morning and helping out on the farm, doing what I can. Luci's grandparents aren't far away and although we can't have contact with them, we are doing what we can to help them stay safe.

‘‘The nearest village, Carlton in Cleveland, is very small but I heard the other day that there hasn't been any positive tests for coronavirus as yet, so that's good news.''

As regards being ready to get back to action, Hughes can't stress enough the importance of having a date to aim at.

‘‘It's great to be able to work back from July 1 and make sure I am ready. I haven't even been able to ride out for the trainers I usually ride out for since the middle of March because their sole focus is keeping their staff employed, so there will be rust no doubt.

‘‘But the strength and conditioning coaches at Jack Berry House have online workouts that we can do to keep the fitness levels up. Between that and the running it keeps me ticking over.''

ENDS

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