Hughes has been making relentless progress in recent weeks and had closed the gap to just three before the eight-race card at Dunstall Park. But for the first time in a while Hanagan will be able to sleep a little easier as he is five winners in front with only five days of the season left.
Moreover, Hughes has yet to decide whether he will take the mount on Paco Boy in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Mile in America, which would rule him out of the final day of the season. "It is a possibility that I might not go to America but I will see how it goes in the next couple of days," said Hughes.
As it currently stands, he is also prohibited from riding on Friday as he will have reached his quota of nine meetings within a week, as set by the British Horseracing Authority.
Hanagan first struck on board Ann Duffield's Insolenceofoffice, also a 4-6 favourite. Hughes attempted to force him wide on Lady Mango but his mount faded into third.
"He is straightforward and deserved that success," said Hanagan. "Richard rode a good race on Lady Mango by keeping me out wide but this a great little horse." Hanagan later finished last on Stanley Rigby and was given a two-day ban for causing interference on leaving the stalls - but it will not come into effect until after the championship race is over.
Malton-based Hanagan struck an unexpected blow in the Enjoy The Party Pack Group Offer Handicap, though, when Blue Moon got the better of odds-on favourite Inpursuitoffreedom, ridden by Hughes. The jolly was all dressed up with nowhere to go turning into the straight while Hanagan took the outside route on Kevin Ryan's 5-2 chance.
When Inpursuitoffreedom finally got in the clear, Hanagan had gained a big enough lead that was not for catching, and held on by half a length.
"I owed Richard one in a tight finish. He's done me a few times in the last week so I'm pleased," he said.
Hanagan nearly dealt a hammer blow to the Irishman when runner-up on 33-1 chance Trachonitis in the concluding handicap, won by fellow outsider Naheel. On paper Hughes' mount Knockdolian was one of his best chances of the day but the 11-10 favourite could only finish seventh. Hanagan heads to Kempton for five rides today, as does Hughes.
The title race has captured the imagination of the betting public and the joust has prompted Ladbrokes to offer match bets on evert race between the pair this week. In early October, Ladbrokes paid out in excess of 150,000 to Hanagan backers concluding that the battle was over - only to see Hughes claw back at Hanagan's advantage.