Hanagan will not be in the same boat as Redgrave

PAUL Hanagan said “never again” after putting his body on the line to become a deserved but unexpected champion jockey 12 months ago.

Now, as he stands on the brink of successfully defending his crown after another gruelling seven-month battle for supremacy, he is adamant when he says: “Definitely not again”.

“You don’t know what it is like,” he adds.

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When reminded that Olympic oarsman Sir Steve Redgrave, a sporting colossus in comparison to the slender-framed Hanagan, requested anyone to “shoot me if you see me in a boat again” after the 1996 Atlanta Games, the champion laughs.

“I feel as old as him at the moment,” he tells the Yorkshire Post.

After another frenetic day of action that saw the Malton rider, and his great Yorkshire rival Silvestre de Sousa, compete at Southwell before catching helicopters to Wolverhampton, Hanagan still stands on his overnight mark of 164 while his pursuer had one success.

Hanagan is therefore seven clear of Thirsk-based de Sousa with just two days of the season remaining – Ffos Las and Wolverhampton today and Doncaster tomorrow where the two combatants are expected to go head-to-head in seven races.

However, the battle will be over tonight if Hanagan has an eight-winner lead after Wolverhampton’s finale.

Compared to a year ago when Richard Hughes, the man at the centre of the recent whip controversy, cut Hanagan’s lead to two winners as the title battle went to the wire on Town Moor, the champion finds himself in a seemingly unassailable position.

Yet he derives greater personal satisfaction from this year’s title race – despite the physical and mental exertions – because it proved that he is a “genuine champion” who was not a “fluke winner” 12 months ago because his rivals were beset by injury or suspension.

Every leading rider, including six-times champion Kieren Fallon who put up a spirited challenge, tried and failed to catch the understated champion.

“Quite a few people have said I was a one-off. I never thought so, I won it on merit. Hopefully I have put that one to bed,” Hanagan says. “The key is being consistent and not getting banned, though it was disappointing to pick up five days last weekend for hitting a horse once more than the prescribed limit. It has been very difficult – you race for a gap and it is very difficult to keep count at the same time.”

Hanagan, stable jockey to Richard Fahey, says last year’s “gruelling” fight to the finish has, in fact, served him well.

“It has helped. I’ve tried to enjoy it more, and I’ve had a driver to help with the travelling,” he explains.

“But I can’t keep going on like this – it takes over your life. I intend to take a step back and try and get on better horses.

“I’m supposed to be going to my good friend and jockey PJ McDonald’s wedding in North Yorkshire on Saturday night, but I’ll probably fall asleep.”

Those better rides could come from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation – Hanagan has carried their iconic blue silks to victory on several occasions. And, while Frankie Dettori may not be ready to retire, Hanagan hopes he has done enough to secure some rides on “some good horses” next year.

It is perplexing, to both Hanagan and Yorkshire racing devotees, that the reigning champion only rode in one Classic this year when the Fahey-trained Barefoot Lady was fifth in the 1000 Guineas.

Of course this was not helped by Fahey’s Wootton Bassett, who provided Hanagan with a first Group One success last year, failing to sparkle after an injury-hit season before being retired to stud. His withdrawal from the 2000 Guineas, won by the freakish Frankel, was a sign of things to come.

“I felt for Richard because he was the star horse in the yard and he was beset by niggling little injuries,” explains Hanagan.

“Sometimes, it just isn’t to be for great two-year-olds to replicate their first season form when they return as three-year-olds. And that’s been the case with Wootton Bassett who has now gone on to a career at stud. Maybe one of his progenies will be as good – and I can take the ride.

“I certainly got a taste for the big races, and there’s where I want to test myself. Royal Ascot was a downer, too, when I was injured. But those bad moments pale into insignificance in contrast to all the fabulous days and the many winners.”

That said, Hanagan admits his temperament was sorely tested when strong headwinds delayed his helicopter from Nottingham to Kempton on Wednesday night, and he missed the first race – a winning ride – on Night Flash by five minutes.

The 30-year-old looked disconsolate as he trudged across the track to a waiting car, weighed down by his kit bag and exasperation.

“I was a bit gutted to be honest,” he adds. “I paid for the helicopter and thought I would have a winner. But you can’t let it get to you. That’s why I mean it when I say not again.

“It’s great – but you can only put yourself through this for so long.

“I would not be honest if I said I had enjoyed every single minute of it.

“No, never again.”