Brian Hughes has dominated the Jockeys’ Championship in the last two seasons in National Hunt racing, but he is unlikely to have it his own way in the 2023/24 campaign, if the opening few months are anything to go by.
The season began on May 1st with summer racing from venues like Stratford. However, from October onwards, Jump racing becomes more prominent on the calendar, so there is still a long way until the championship ends on the April 27th next year.
Bowen off to a flying start
With 67 winners from his opening 236 rides this season, Sean Bowen has made an excellent start to his campaign, and he leads the way in the standings. He has been in hot form since the season began, often completing doubles and trebles across the summer cards where his father’s yard has been a key player in that success. Four rides at Stratford today for four separate trainers are representative of his work rate and broad appeal.
The Welsh-born rider reached the 50-winner mark in July when he partnered Lermoos Legend to victory at Worcester. His half-century came 44 days earlier than it did in the 2022/23 campaign.
Last season was a memorable one for Bowen, as he had his first ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on board Noble Yeats. He finished fourth in the blue riband event in the sport.
A month later, Bowen partnered with Noble Yeats again in the Grand National at Aintree. He came home fourth of 39 runners in what was another big run from the former winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Bowen is likely to have another shot at winning the marathon race in Liverpool in 2024. Noble Yeats is the favourite in horse racing odds to prevail in the 4m2½f contest in April.
Hughes vying for a fourth title
With three titles in the last four years, Hughes has dominated the Jockeys’ Championship in jumps racing. A regular at Stratford during the summer months courtesy of Donald McCain’s summer runners and a few choice ones from Charlie Longsdon, he has got off to a good start to the defence of his title, but this is the first season for a while where he has trailed as the autumn approaches.
Hughes added his name to the history books in the 2021/22 campaign, becoming just the fourth National Hunt jockey to ride 200 winners in a season. He joined Peter Scudamore, Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson with that feat, three of the legends of the sport, all prolific winners. However, unlike the aforementioned, Hughes’ trainers are largely Northern-based, and rides at marquee fixtures like the Festival have been few and far between.
The Northern Irish-born rider was set to ride Corach Rambler in the Grand National last April as it was thought the horse’s regular rider Derek Fox was going to be out of the meeting through injury. Fox was able to pass a late fitness test and he went on to ride the Scottish-based horse to victory in the race at Aintree. Hughes will be hoping to get another chance at becoming a Grand National-winning jockey next April in the marathon contest.
Cobden is best of the rest
Harry Cobden is in third place in the early stages of the 2023/24 National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship. He has had 34 winners from his opening 149 rides, but summer rides have been fewer and further between than his leading rivals; Cobden’s strength is among winter and Spring trainers with Saturday horses.
Cobden has been in the running for the jockeys’ title in each of the last three seasons. He will be hoping he can stay with Bowen and Hughes into the second half of the latest campaign, and the support of the champion trainer could be a decisive factor. It made all the difference to fellow rider Harry Skelton in his championship when his brother’s powerful yard at Alcester rowed in behind him.
This season could be set to be one of the most fascinating battles for a while, and it could go right down to the wire on the April 27th when the trophy is handed out at Sandown. Fixtures at Stratford next March may well play a leading role in the destination of the prize.