TWO-TIME champion jockey Paul Hanagan is returning to his Northern roots after losing his job as retained rider to leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
He will ride, once again, for Malton trainer Richard Fahey, the man who provided Hanagan with the firepower to win the Flat’s title race in both 2010 and 2011.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the jockey can become champion for a third time – but Fahey has stressed that the long-serving Tony Hamilton, as well as top young riders like Jack Garritty and cracking apprentice Adam McNamara, will continue to receive opportunities.
Hanagan, who has been having a break from the sport, is phlegmatic about his four-year association with Sheikh Hamdan which saw him enjoy several high-profile successes, notably Epsom Oaks and King George success with John Gosden’s Taghrooda in 2014, before a disappointing campaign last year.
“I’m really looking forward to relocating back up north, he said.
“As you can imagine it’s quite stressful moving house and the kids moving schools, but we’re getting there.
“I’m going to link up with Richard and the big thing is just to be part of the team, it’s a very special team – happy staff, happy horses.
“I’ve been back there riding out when I can, but obviously I’ve a lot to do moving house.
“I couldn’t have been champion without Richard. Even when I started the other job he still gave me a lot of winners, including the July Cup on Mayson, so I’ve always been part of the team even when I moved away.
“It’s a shorter season now than when I was champion and it should make things a little bit easier – but it’s still very testing.
“The main thing for me is to just get back, I’ve still got good contacts up north and I’ve also got the best agent in the business in Richard Hale.”
He added: “I’m just looking forward to getting back going, I’ll start back at Newcastle on February 1. I’ve had a good break, my first real one since I was champion jockey, and I feel so much better for it. Because of the break in 2017 I’ll be fresher than so many other jockeys who’ve been on the go all winter.
“I’ll take it day by day. When I was champion jockey the first time, I rode four winners at Doncaster on the first day, obviously it’s changed now, but it just snowballed for me. We didn’t have a good season last year and for a jockey the main thing is confidence, I was used to riding lots of winners and I wasn’t doing that and my confidence suffered.
“There’s no regrets, I rode my first Classic winner, a King George winner, rode the champion sprinter in Muhaarar, it was a successful time and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Fahey welcomed Hanagan’s decision, saying: “Paul was keen to come home and I was never going to say no.
“There’s not just Tony (Hamilton) I’ve to think about, though, I’ve got six or seven jockeys I use regularly.
“Obviously, though, it’s great to have him back – we have a great working relationship.
“He was twice champion jockey before he left, so I’m not sure you can say he’ll be a better jockey now.
“Whether it might be asking a bit much to be champion again straight away, I don’t know, but I’d like to think the North will get right behind him once again.”
Hanagan began his career with Malton’s Malcolm Jefferson who is looking forward to the return of Cyrus Darius in Saturday’s StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
Now an eight-year-old, the former Grade Two-winning hurdler was last seen winning on his chasing debut nearly 500 days ago at Perth.
“It will be a relief to finally get him going again,” said Jefferson.
“I’ve been really pleased him him recently and the plan is to run.”
Cyrus Darius is one of 10 possible runners which include Irish raider Ivan Grozny.
Haydock’s high-profile meeting will also see Jefferson’s novice chaser Waiting Patiently maintain his unbeaten record over fences.
“Waiting Patiently is a lovely horse,” said Jefferson. “I know he’s a bit out of it on ratings with a few of them but he’s improving and he’ll love the ground while some of them won’t. It can’t be soft enough for him but he’s not a slow horse.”