No further local racing until Carlisle stage their first fixture of 2020 on Monday, February 3.

But, judged by the drama at the Blackwell venue last Sunday, racegoers on the northern circuit will have plenty to keep themselves alert during the intervening weeks, not least the riveting clash between Richard Johnson, the reigning champion, and his northern challenger Brian Hughes for the title of champion jumps jockey of the season.

Brian arrived at Carlisle last Sunday on the back of consecutive victories in the last two valuable races at Doncaster’s Saturday meeting.

Little more than four hours later he left for home with a four-timer to his name and a tally of 95 winners on the seasonal scoreboard, level with Richard Johnson.

Personal fitness will be a crucial outcome to the contest but assuming that both riders escape serious injury the competition between them promises to be nail-biting.

Richard can call on the services of Philip Hobbs, Tim Vaughan, Olly Murphy and Gordon Elliott. He will also be favoured by the glut of Springtime racing in the south and the midlands.

A major plus for Brian Hughes is his stature as the north’s outstanding jumps jockey and one imagines that his agent, Cumbrian-based Richard Hale, will use this position to maximum effect.

The top trainers who book him to partner their horses, notably Nicky Richards and Keith Dalgleish, are also in peak form and perhaps most importantly the tide would seem to be turning in favour of Donald McCain.

As first jockey to this powerful yard, Brian should be counting on a regular flow of winners.

Over the past few months, however, this simply has not been happening.

The signs currently suggest that the McCain team is upwardly mobile and if indeed this proves to be the case then it alone will pose a serious threat to Richard Johnson’s title claims.

Brian Hughes rode the winners of the two feature races at Saturday’s Doncaster meeting in contrasting styles.

On the Donald McCain trained Navarjo Pass, a winner on the flat at Carlisle last summer, he made all the running and saved enough in the tank to fend off all his rivals after the final flight.

Matters were different on Greystoke’s My Old Gold in the Bet365 Handicap Chase. Brian settled the mare in the rear on the wide outside and did not make his move until racing off the final bend.

My Old Gold was patently travelling better than the warm favourite Cloth Cap as the pair closed in towards the second last but made her one mistake of the race at this penultimate obstacle, losing momentum and forfeiting two clear lengths.

The mare is very game and genuine though. She was back on terms at the last and stayed on in typically brave manner under Brian’s coaxing to overhaul the market leader close home and win at the generous price of 4/1.

Trainer Nicky Richards was delighted at the outcome though warned that the mare might now have to step up to Graded company for her next outing.

Brian extended his winning sequence and initiated his Carlisle four-timer with an effortless success in the opener on the Nicky Richards trained Big Bad Bear who landed the odds of 1/4.

This powerfully built sort is owned by Trevor Hemmings and should develop into a potential 3m chaser.

The combination of Ryan Mania and Sandy Thomson took the next two races with Mymilan and Empire Steel.

Since winning the 2013 Aintree Grand National on Aurora’s Encore, Ryan has been more out of racing than furthering his career as a professional jumps jockey for much of the time fighting a losing battle against increasing weight.

This problem is now behind him and a sylph-like Mania has taken on a new lease of his racing life working and riding for Sandy Thomson. He gave both the Thomson horses positive front running rides and is clearly enjoying his return to the weighing room.

Chapel Stile was allowed to start at 11/4 for the novice chase in face of sustained market support for the Venetia Williams raider Cloudy Glen.

All the fences in the home straight were omitted because of the bright low sun and Cloudy Glen looked to have the race at his mercy with a five-length advantage between the last two furlongs.

But Ryan Day aboard the gutsy Chapel Stile had Never given up the pursuit and with the leader suddenly starting to tread water inside the final 100 yards Chapel Stile stormed up the final stretch to score by a neck.

Ryan admitted after the race that he hadn’t thought Chapel Stile could get there in time but he added: “This little horse is my favourite and he never stops trying.”

His successful trainer Nicky Richards has always felt that Chapel Stile had the ability to go well over fences.

He said: “He just needs more experience but he is a stayer and three miles will be his trip.”

A disappointing field of five went to post for the Pertemps Qualifier and Brian Hughes was seen at his strongest on Taxmeifyoucan forcing the Keith Dalgleish gelding home after taking a narrow lead from Presence Felt after the last flight.

In many ways the Dixon outsider was the moral winner. The 16/1 chance had looked outstanding in the paddock and, with John Dixon junior giving him every opportunity to stay the extended three miles, he took a clear lead between the last two hurdles and was rallying bravely after being headed halfway up the run in.

“He has run a fine race,” said John Dixon senior. “ The ground has been so wet at Thursby that it has been hard to get him fit. He has also had wind surgery and the trip right just have found him out.”

The 3m 2f chase went deservedly to Teddy Tee and Ryan Day who teamed up splendidly to put in a series of bold extravagant leaps. A stunning jump at the last settled the issue and one just hopes that the handicapper will use common sense and leave him on a feasible mark.

Teddy Tee was a second win on the day for David and Nicky Robinson’s Langdale Bloodstock and the popular Greystoke owners completed their treble when Kitty Hall gained a smooth success under Brian Hughes in the first division of the Bumper. The second division also went to Hughes who was notching his sixth win in the space of 24 hours.

Tomorrow sees the last day of racing before Christmas with Haydock and Newcastle providing the sport in the North. Feature race at Haydock is the Tommy Whittle Chase an event in which Sue Smith has a sound record.

Sue has entered Vintage Clouds this time round and the course winner has losses to regain having dropped out of contention at an early stage of the Becher Chase at Aintree. He has run some of his best races at Haydock and will be well suited by underfoot conditions.

Nicky Richards has pencilled in Glittering Love to make his seasonal reappearance in the long distance handicap Chase. This genuine stayer has an excellent strike record and in the past gone well fresh.

Stablemate Amberose landed a touch at Carlisle last time out despite hitting the front a shade too early. She needs to be held up for a late challenge but if she gets the run of the race should go close in the handicap hurdle.

Boxing Day is less than a week away and the King George promises to be a thriller.

Carlisle form is shared between Lostintranslation and Cyename with personal preference for this year’s Colin Parker Memorial Chase winner who followed up with a decisive win in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

More immediately, Nicky Richards goes for Grade 2 success at Ascot today with the hat-trick seeking Ribble Valley reputedly the outstanding young hurdler at his Greystoke stable.