RICHARD Hughes has described the new initiative to crown a champion Flat jockey between the Guineas meeting in May and the Qipco British Champions Day in October as “good progress”.
The current champion has declared his intention to go all out to win a fourth crown in what will be his final season in the saddle before he starts a training career. Announced by Great British Racing, the changes to the jockeys’ championship have been devised to make a title charge less of a grind for its participants, and to “provide a more compelling storyline for new and existing racing fans”.
For the first time, the champion jockey will also be rewarded financially, with £25,000 for the winner. There will also be prizes for the runner-up, leading apprentice and jockey of the month, which will be run in association with Channel 4 Racing.
“This is good progress,” said Hughes. “Over the last 30 years, the number of racedays has almost doubled and the sheer volume of racing has meant that the title battle is a real grind. It took me 20 years to win my first championship and I am in no mood to give up my title now.”
Frankie Dettori, three times a champion under the old format, said: “This makes complete sense. The profile of racing has changed. You need a good start and a good finish with the leading contenders present.
“Racing needs to make more of us jockeys and the rivalry between us to engage the public. I believe it will heighten the intensity of the competition, which is exactly what we should be doing. Under the old system there wasn’t as much fanfare around the championships but it’s what you see in Formula 1 and other sports and fans really get involved.”
The 2015 Flat trainers’ championship will not be part of the redefined format and will be awarded to the trainer who has won the most prize money on both turf and all-weather tracks from 9 November, 2014 to 7 November, 2015.
Former champion jockey Kevin Darley is in favour of the changes. “I was an advocate of the old Doncaster to Doncaster season, but time has moved on,” he said. “The new championships will help raise the profile of the lads fighting for the title and there will still be an all-weather championship.”
However, leading Flat trainer Mark Johnston disagrees and the Scot wrote on his website: “You can now brace yourself for the departure of our top jockeys, to sunnier, more lucrative, climes in early October.
“You can take it that the majority will only ride in Britain for six months of the year.”