Winless final day enough for Hanagan to claim title
Never before can a loser here ever been greeted with as raucous a reception. Without having to ride a winner, Paul Hanagan was crowned champion jockey in front of a partisan Yorkshire crowd as Richard Hughes's brave title charge faltered in the final strides.
"I've never given a horse as many pats on the neck for finishing eighth," said a beaming Hanagan, as he returned from the track after riding the unplaced Tepmokea in the November Handicap, the race that confirmed the title would be his when Hughes's mount, Senate, failed to justify market expectations.
The pair had entered the final day of the Flat season with seven strong-looking rides apiece as Hanagan attempted to maintain the lead he has held since the first race of the season in March.
In the event, the contest petered out into a goalless draw, with neither jockey able to get on the scoresheet, leaving Hanagan two clear in the final standings.
However, when it became clear that Hughes was not going to be able to reach Hanagan's final tally of 191 winners, the celebrations began in the Royal Box, handed over by the racecourse to members of his family for the day.
"Daddy, daddy -- you won the winner," shouted his four-year-old son, Josh, as he posed for photographers in the weighing room. The thrilling battle between two of racing's most unassuming big players, in which fortunes have dramatically fluctuated in the final days of the season, was a reminder that racing's best stories need not always be choreographed.
At the start of the season, neither were considered leading contenders for the championship, with Ryan Moore, Kieren Fallon and Frankie Dettori heading the betting. But their dominance of the championship came about substantially as a result of the brilliant seasons enjoyed by their respective employers, Hughes's boss and father-in-law, Richard Hannon, taking the trainers' title for the first time since 1993 and Hanagan's long-time mentor, Richard Fahey, also enjoying his most successful season.
Hughes, praised by his rival as "a real gentleman", took defeat squarely on the chin. Hughes seemed out of contention for the title until riding a remarkable nine winners, all for Hannon, during the five days of Glorious Goodwood at the end of July. But it was not until Doncaster's St Leger meeting in September that he sensed he might have a legitimate chance of stealing the championship.
"I don't regret giving it a try," insisted Hughes. "I've got to thank my loyal supporters and the people who have given me rides who might not usually do so. Maybe they will use me again."
Despite being drenched in champagne by his fellow jockeys, who hoisted him on to their shoulders for celebrations in the winner's enclosure, it was typical of Hanagan that he went out to ride again aboard Harrison George in his final race and gave the race his all, finishing fifth.
"It will take a while to sink in," he said. "The last week was absolutely horrendous. I was just trying to focus and keep my head. From the minute you woke up in the morning to the minute you went to bed. It was 24-7. Because it started from day one, I've really had to keep my head down right from the start of the season."
Hanagan's supporters seemed to be everywhere when the former champion Kevin Darley handed him the trophy. Another presentation is set to take place for Hanagan, a Liverpool fanatic, at Anfield in two weeks' time.
In agreeing to hand over all of his earnings from the past fortnight of the season -- around £15,000 -- to charities, his fan club became even bigger.