His victory on the Rebecca Menzies-trained Nortonthorpelegend at Catterick capped a memorable month for Hughes who is now established as the North’s pre-eminent jump jockey.
The North Yorkshire rider’s successes included a famous five-timer at Musselburgh and is testament to his work ethic. The first jockey on the gallops each morning, he is relentless when it comes to building up contacts and assessing the form to ensure he’s on the most favourable horses. On the 67-winner mark for the current campaign, it is a career-best strike-rate of 18 per cent – nearly one in five of his horses win – which gives the jockey the greatest satisfaction because it shows that he is continuing to improve in the saddle. Others would be advised to take note of his drive and determination.
After his latest success, Hughes ventured: “If someone said December would be half as good, I’d take that. It all really started with the rearranged Musselburgh meeting, there were seven races, I got seven rides, had five winners and two seconds.”
Stable jockey to Malton’s Malcolm Jefferson who provided high-profile wins on Oscar Rock and Cloudy Dream, a rising star of the novice chasing ranks, Hughes is relishing the ride on the aforementioned The Last Samuri in the Betfred Becher Chase – a warm-up for next April’s Randox Health Grand National.
Kim Bailey’s staying chaser was ridden in the National by David Bass who has opted to ride stablemate Charbel in the Grade One Racing Post Henry VIII Chase at Sandown following a stirring win in last month’s Kalahari King Beginners’ Chase at Uttoxeter.
The only negative is that The Last Samuri will have to carry top weight of 11st 12lb as a result of his National exploits and a creditable comeback at Down Royal last month. Yet this three-and-a-quarter-mile test is also a supreme test of horsemanship.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” said Hughes. “I won the Topham on Always Waining, he was a grand little horse who came alive around there. I then got off him to ride Frankie Figg and he won a couple more! I’ve had a few good spins there.”
The Last Samuri’s opponents will include Highland Lodge. The Jimmy Moffatt-trained horse was victorious 12 months ago for Middleham jockey Henry Brooke who confirmed his fitness by finishing fourth in Catterick’s finale seven weeks after suffering a collapsed lung, and nine fractured ribs, at Hexham.
He said the prospect of riding Highland Lodge, and also watching Hughes win on horses that he’d previously ridden, spurred on his recovery at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehab centre in Malton.
Weather permitting, Bass makes his comeback at Wincanton 10 days after suffering multiple fractures to his cheekbone in a fall at Ascot which saw him kicked in the face by an errant hoof.
After winning on Charbel at Uttoxeter, he can’t wait to take on Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham Festival winner Altior as these two highly-regarded two-mile novice chasers put their lofty reputations on the line. “It’s less than two weeks, but I don’t need my face to ride, luckily,” said Bass. “It didn’t look pretty for a few days and was very swollen – it looked like I’d gone 12 rounds with Anthony Joshua. I saw a specialist who saw my vision was fine and the fractures are stable enough so it’s okay to ride.”