Harry Skelton moved further clear of Brian Hughes in the National Hunt jockeys’ championship betting on Wednesday, despite still being a winner adrift of the reigning champion in the contest itself. Skelton’s treble from six rides at Southwell took his total for March to 28, one short of his best score in a calendar month.
At the end of January, Skelton had 75 winners on the board, 21 adrift of Hughes with just three months left in a campaign which started in July 2020. He has made relentless progress since, however, and drew alongside Hughes on 129 for the season with his third winner on Wednesday afternoon, before his rival notched a single success from half-a-dozen rides at Hexham to edge back ahead.
Skelton’s 6-1 treble on Costly Diamond (evens), First Class Return (10-11) and Soyouthinksoagain (5-6) saw him cut to 4-7 (from 8-11) for his first title by Paddy Power, while Hughes is out to 5-4 from evens. Skelton would be only the fourth different rider to win the championship since 1996, after Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Hughes. Harry Cobden, 13 winners behind Hughes, is a 20-1 chance.
“It’s brilliant and it’s down to a good team,” Skelton told Sky Sports Racing after his third winner on Wednesday. “[His brother] Dan’s horses are flying and I’m picking up a few outside rides. I’m in a very privileged position with a lot of good people around me.”
Asked if he was following Hughes’s progress at Hexham, Skelton added: “Obviously, you’re always watching, aren’t you? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, but this is a position I’ve always wanted to be in, I’ve dreamt of being here. I never thought I’d do it this year, but it’s fantastic and I’m loving it. My agent, Ian Popham, is working very hard and my brother’s working very hard in placing the horses.”
Interviewed after his solitary win on Bavington Bob (11-10) at Hexham, Hughes said that he would “just keep my head down” over the next three-and-a-half weeks before the final meeting of the season at Sandown on 24 April. “I’m just riding the horses the way I’ve been riding for however many years,” he said.
“I’m not going to start changing the way I ride now because of the situation. I’ll keep my head down and I’ll have plenty of horses to go at, as I’m sure the two Harrys have, and I’ll keep taking it day-by-day. What will be will be. If I get beat, it won’t be for lack of trying.”