Richard Hughes, five behind Paul Hanagan in the battle for this year's jockeys' crown, has raised the intriguing possibility that he could give up the lucrative pickings of the weekend's Breeders Cup meeting in Kentucky in favour of the professional satisfaction of a first title. The Flat championship season ends at Doncaster on Saturday, when Hughes is scheduled to partner Paco Boy against the hot favourite Goldikova in the £1.1m Mile at Churchill Downs.
With a ride also booked there on Friday, he had intended to leave Britain after racing on Thursday but yesterday at Wolverhampton he admitted that those plans are no longer set in stone. "All options remain open and staying is a possibility," he said. "I'm really enjoying having a crack at the championship. But I'll wait and see for a day or two before making a decision."
In recent weeks Hughes has been making a concerted late thrust at the long-time title leader, but a blank day for him and a double for Hanagan on Insolenceofoffice and Blue Moon widened the gap to be bridged. The two men rejoin battle today at Kempton, each with five rides, but whatever happens, Hughes will not be riding on Friday; by then he will have reached the limit for jockeys of nine different meetings a week.
Another fascinating prospect also emerged yesterday, that of Kauto Star running in next month's Hennessy Gold Cup. One of the accusations regularly levelled at the modern top-class chaser is that he is no longer asked, as (say) Arkle was, to give lumps of weight away in handicaps. When Denman followed his Gold Cup victory by doing just that in last year's Newbury showpiece, Paul Nicholls was swift to aver that Kauto Star, his favourite horse, could have done just the same.
And, if all goes to plan on his seasonal return to action at Down Royal on Saturday, the dual Gold Cup and four-time King George VI Chase winner, who carries the colours of Clive Smith, may be give the opportunity to justify his trainer's faith. "We've discussed it," said Nicholls, "and although we've always been mindful to look after him to extend his career, we may have reached the point where there's no point in wrapping him in too much cotton wool.
"Right now the Hennessy is just an entry; as always, the horse's interests will come first and a fifth King George is his prime target after this Saturday. But I know Clive fancies a crack at the Hennessy and I am not against it. But one thing that is definite is that he won't run between Kempton and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March."
Nicholls reports the 10-year-old, who crashed out in the Gold Cup on his most recent appearance, in fine fettle ahead of his trip to Northern Ireland for the season's first Grade 1 contest, a prize he won two years ago. "It was a horrible fall at Cheltenham and he was luck to escape with his life," added Nicholls, "but he was fine the next time we schooled him. He's such an old pro nowadays."
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Dare Me (2.05 Exeter)
Should have no problems defying a penalty for his win two weeks ago.
Boomtown Kat (4.05 Exeter).
Stayed on encouragingly on his return to hurdles last month and steps up in trip today.
One to watch
Excellent Show (B Smart) will be the better for his run at Wolverhampton on Saturday, his first for eight months.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Ottoman Empire (3.25 Kempton)