PAUL Hanagan, champion jockey for the past two seasons, has signalled his desire to compete for Flat racing’s most valuable prizes after becoming the retained rider to Dubai’s deputy ruler Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, one of the world’s leading owners.
The 31-year-old succeeds weighing room veteran Richard Hills, who retires at the end of next month – and the announcement came 24 hours after Thirsk-based Silvestre de Sousa, runner-up in last year’s title race, joined Godolphin’s ranks.
That Hanagan, only the third Northern-based rider to win the jockeys’ championship in 110 years, and De Sousa have both landed such coveted roles is testament to the improved quality of horsemanship in the region in recent years.
Though widely respected, Hanagan has still only ridden a solitary Group One winner – Wootton Bassett – in his career and has repeatedly spoken of his desire to ride in races like the Epsom Derby rather than grinding it out in the championship race.
He still hopes to ride for Richard Fahey – he has been associated with the Malton trainer since the age of 17 – but it was the prestige of Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Racing operation, with horses in training at many of the country’s leading yards, that was the deciding factor.
“The history of Sheikh Hamdan, watching his horses when I was at school – Willie Carson on Nashwan in the Epsom Derby and Richard Hills, two outstanding jockeys. To be offered that role was an offer I couldn’t resist,” said Hanagan. “You always hear a few rumours going around, I’ve been champion jockey twice so I like to think I would have been in the running for a job like this, but it’s a lot to get your head around, it’s just starting to really sink in now.
“Plenty of trainers train for Sheikh Hamdan that I have ridden for for many years, Ed Dunlop, William Haggas, and anytime I’m not riding for Sheikh Hamdan I’m going to try my very best to ride as many as I can for Richard so, hopefully, not all ties are lost.
“There were plenty of people saying he’s twice champion jockey, but he’s only ridden one Group One winner. With the history of Sheikh Hamdan with so many Classics and a Derby, so many great horses, it was just something I couldn’t turn down. The history, the set-up, it’s the best in the world.
“I want to improve the quality of horse that I ride but I felt sorry for Richard really as he showed with Wootton Bassett that given the right horse he could do the job, he just needs the right horses. The one thing that swung it for me really was the history of Sheikh Hamdan’s horses and, hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Hanagan, who has also won the Cock o’ the North cap that the Yorkshire Post and Racing for Change present to the region’s most prolific winner, said his first priority was to research the new thoroughbreds that he is expecting to ride in Sheikh Hamdan’s distinctive blue colours with white epaulettes.
“There’s plenty there, but it’s a lot to take in,” he added.
“So I’ll be getting my head in the form books and doing as much as I can so it will be a bit easier.”
Meanwhile, Fahey, who says he was “delighted and disappointed” in equal measure, said: “Paul is still going to be riding for us when he’s available, so we’ll still have a lot of contact.
“He’s had lots of job offers in the past and has stuck with us, but this was a big one. His family are still living in the north but Paul is going to be renting a flat in Newmarket.”
The trainer also said he does not plan to appoint another jockey, the likelihood being greater opportunities for riders like 2009 champion apprentice Freddie Tylicki.
With both Hanagan and De Sousa likely to be involved at the major meetings in the South, other local jockeys expected to prosper include Mark Johnston’s stalwart Joe Fanning and the rapidly improving Phil Makin, who is Thirsk-based.