There are no short cuts on the long and winding road to a jockeys' championship, and the one taken by Richard Hughes at the first bend at Wolverhampton last Saturday night now seems the most fatal of dead ends.
Hughes yesterday took his six-day ban for careless riding to the British Horseracing Authority, and while its appeal board at least returned his deposit, he was otherwise sent away empty-handed. Bookmakers now make Paul Hanagan as short as 1-8 to win his first title.
Hughes is not giving up quite yet, however, and intends to go “all out” to close the gap so that Hanagan remains under pressure during his suspension. “It's frustrating,” he said.
“But there's nothing I can do about it, and I've just got to keep going as hard as I can up until the day I'm banned. Then I'll have to assess things when I get back.”
He promptly rode his 159th winner of the campaign at Newbury, reducing Hanagan's lead to 10, before proceeding to lock horns with his rival back at Wolverhampton last night.
In many ways, it is fitting that Hughes should have reached a critical crossroads when and where he did.
Having enjoyed a long career as an elite rider, he would never previously have been seen dead riding mediocre horses under floodlights on the eve of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
This was the man, remember, who forfeited a week of winners in midsummer to guarantee that suspensions did not separate him from various top-class mounts at Goodwood in July.
It has been fascinating, and impressive, to see him rise to the gruelling demands of a title challenge though Hanagan, having kept himself out of the stewards' room in recent weeks, is entitled to the quiet satisfaction that it was his adversary who blinked first.
It remains conceivable, of course, for Hanagan to let Hughes back into the race through some transgression of his own. But Hughes, having seemed to build inexorable momentum over the previous week or two, must now fear that the issue is out of his hands.
It was instructive that he had only appealed against the severity of his ban, rather than protest his innocence. He will now sit out October 16-22 inclusive — starting with Champions' Day at Newmarket.