Without good horses, Hughes says he would not have ridden 55 winners this season – Three Kingdoms at Leicester yesterday was his latest triumph – and be fifth in the national standings behind AP McCoy.
It would not be possible without the jockey’s work ethic, abstemious lifestyle and encyclopaedic knowledge of racing’s form book.
These traits help explain why Hughes was one of the few Northern jockeys to be in demand at Cheltenham’s three-day Open meeting; his horsemanship is being recognised by influential yards further afield.
It could have gone better – Malcolm Jefferson’s Attaglance was withdrawn from the feature Paddy Power Gold Cup because of soft ground and Sgt Reckless missed the Greatwood Hurdle – but the stable’s novice chaser Urban Hymn put up an impressive performance to finish third behind Champagne West and is one to follow.
Hughes rounded off the meeting by finishing runner-up in the Bumper aboard exciting prospect Arabic History who is trained, like Three Kingdoms, by Sheikh Mohammed’s leading bloodstock adviser John Ferguson.
Newmarket-based Ferguson is not the only trainer to be impressed by Hughes – the jockey is also riding Cammila and Tim Radford’s string of horses that are in training with Mick Channon, the Lambourn-based former footballer.
This burgeoning association explains why Hughes is missing today’s Doncaster fixture and heading to the Norfolk track of Fakenham when Channon’s Warden Hill will be looking to lower the colours of Vicente in a beginners’ chase.
The jockey refuses to take his successes for granted. Though he won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival in March when partnering Hawk High to success in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, he was still irked by Attaglance’s narrow defeat to Present View 24 hours earlier.
“You don’t look back. You look forward,” said Hughes who could be reunited with Hawk High in this Saturday’s Grade One Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock which is expected to feature the highly-regarded The New One.
As well as the aforementioned Jefferson, Hughes regularly rides for the likes of John Wade, Jimmy Moffatt, Kevin Ryan, Richard Fahey and Dianne Sayer. As befits a likeable jockey who immerses himself in the sport’s statistics between rides while keeping a beady eye open for new contacts at race meetings, he quickly points out Sayer has supplied him nine victories this season and his strike-rate of 18 per cent – a career-best – was comparable to the prolific Richard Johnson before the latter monopolised the Cheltenham meeting with seven winners.
“There is still a difference between being a good Northern jockey and someone going to meetings like Cheltenham with good chances. A jockey is only as good as the horses that he rides,” added the 29-year-old, who lives near Thirsk.
“There are a lot of lads who are unable to get the rides. I am lucky. I am riding for good owners and am able to get on horses that are able to win. The hardest part of the job is getting on good horses. The more rides and wins you have, the more experienced you are for the bigger race days when they come.”