In Britain, the 2019/20 National Hunt season was originally due to end on April 25, but concluded prematurely, on March 18, when the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that all horse racing would be suspended until the end of April, at the earliest, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, Brian Hughes, who is based in Cleveland in North East England, rode 141 winners, 19 more than his nearest rival, Richard Johnson, to win the Jump Jockeys’ Championship for the first time. Indeed, Hughes became the first jockey other than Johnson or Sir Anthony McCoy to win the title since 1995/96 and the first northern-based jockey to do so since Jonjo O’Neill in 1979/80.
Originally from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, Hughes, 34, was Champion Conditional Jockey in 2007/08, but achieved his best seasonal tally as a fully-fledged professional in 2018/19, when he rode 146 winners. However, even in the abbreviated 2019/20 season, Hughes only fell five short of that total and, while Richard Johnson was sidelined for nearly six weeks in January and February with a broken arm, few could deny that the newly-crowned champion fully deserved his success. In fact, Hughes was already three winners ahead when Johnson sustained the injury – he was unseated from his mount, Westend Story, in a novices’ chase at Exeter on January 21 and subsequently kicked by a rival – and, with a career-best strike rate of 20%, his title win was hardly a fluke.
Undoubtedly the greatest National Hunt jockey in history, Sir Anthony McCoy, a.k.a. Tony McCoy, requires little introduction. Born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1974, McCoy was Champion Conditional Jockey in 1995/96 and, thereafter, Champion Jockey every year for two decades until his retirement in April, 2015. All told, McCoy rode a record 4,348 winners over obstacles, an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that he stands 5’10” tall and, throughout his career, required a punishing regime to maintain his weight at around 10st 3lb. In 2016, McCoy was knighted for services to horse racing, making him just the second jockey in history, after Sir Gordon Richards in 1953, to be awarded a knighthood.
Indeed, in 2001/02, en route to his seventh Jump Jockeys’ Championship, McCoy rode 289 winners, thereby breaking the British record for the most winners in a single season, 269, set by Sir Gordon Richards in 1947. In August 2002, McCoy also succeeded Richard Dunwoody as the most prolific jockey in British National Hunt history, when Mighty Montefalco, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, landed odds of 8/13 at Uttoxeter to bring up winner number 1,700. After winning the Jump Jockeys’ Championship again in 2002/03, with 258 winners McCoy set his sights on riding 300 winners in 2003/04; he suffered a major setback when breaking his arm in a fall at Worcester in June, with just 36 winners on the board, but still managed 209 winners in the season as a whole.