Two-time champion flat jockey Paul Hanagan was born in Warrington, Cheshire in 1980. As a child he was a talented football player who dreamed of one day becoming a professional. Due to his height and slight stature that was never really an option for him, so he turned his eye towards horse racing.
Introduced to horses at around about the age of eleven, Hanagan developed a love for them that would see him go on to have a fantastic career in the sport. His father had ambitions of being a jockey himself, but failed to make the grade in Newmarket. He rode out at weekends for local trainer Terry Caldwell and used to take a young Paul along with him. At the age of 14, Hanagan Jr started riding out and would continue gaining valuable work experience under Caldwell until he left school.
In 1997, Hanagan completed a nine-week course with the British Racing School and then moved on to his first proper job within the sport. That job was with trainer Malcolm Jefferson, who was primarily a National Hunt trainer, who gave the young jockey his first ride at Haydock. He rode ‘Stone Beck’ to a fourth place finish in that race, just four days short of his 18th birthday in September 1998.
After a year riding for Jefferson, finishing without a win from his 18 rides, it was recommended that he joined up with a genuine flat yard. He joined the growing yard of Malton-based trainer Richard Fahey as an apprentice and took the first big step to becoming a champion.
He rode a total of 58 winners between 1999 and 2001, before finding his first big career success in 2002. After riding ‘Vintage Premium’ to victory in the John Smith’s Cup at York, Hanagan would go on to have 81 winners to be named champion apprentice flat jockey for the season. He actually finished with the second highest post-war total of winners for an apprentice, just six short of the record.
Hanagan and Fahey always had a great relationship, with mutual respect for each other, that enabled them to build a strong partnership. It was in 2002 that Fahey was famously quoted as saying “If this boy is not champion one day, I will give up the game.”
When starting out in the sport, Hanagan’s main ambition was to ride over 100 winners in a season. This was a milestone he reached for the first time in 2004 when he rode 101 winners and also exceeded £1million in prize money for the year.
He continued to toil away in an attempt at winning his first champion flat jockey title, but would have to wait until 2010 to make that dream a reality. He started the season in brilliant fashion, with four winners on the opening day, which put him in pole position for the title. He was never headed and finished the year with 191 race winners to become only the third Northern-based champion jockey in over a century.
In the same year, Hanagan would also reach another important career milestone. He rode his first ever Group 1 winner when ‘Wootton Bassett’ won the Prix Jean-Luc Lagarere at Longchamp in France.
He rode 165 winners the following year to win back-to-back titles, pipping Silvestre De Sousa to become champion on the final day of the 2011 season. That made him the first Northern-based jockey ever to become a two-time champion. He also rode his 1,000th career winner during 2011, with ‘Blown It’ being the horse to lead him over that fantastic milestone with a win at Catterick.
After winning his two titles, he decided to cut down on his workload in order to avoid burn-out. He rode in 400 races less in 2012 than he did the year previously, instead focusing on quality rather than quantity. Although he rode less, he still found success. His biggest of the season was when he rode ‘Mayson’ to victory in the July Cup at Newmarket to record his first Group 1 win in Great Britain.
He may not ride enough now to challenge for the title but he has ridden over 100 winners every year since 2009 and his best win percentage has come in the past two seasons. Dropping his workload and concentrating on the quality rides rather than the quantity has obviously served him well. It has also prevented him from burning out too quickly and inevitably prolonged his career.
He had another significant event happen in 2012, when he replaced the retiring Richard Hills as retained rider for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum. This obviously meant standing down as number one jockey for Richard Fahey, but their relationship didn’t suffer and they still pair up on the course from time to time.
Hanagan saw his chances of major race success increase and won his first British classic in 2014, with ‘Taghrooda’ winning the Oaks at Epsom. This was the first of five Group 1 winners for Hanagan in Great Britain during 2014 and 2015, with him picking up his second July Cup on ‘Muhaarar’ during that time.
He joined a list of top jockeys recruited to the Al Basti Equiworld sponsorship team at the start of 2015. The former champion then picked up his second career Group 1 win in France, on ‘Muhaarar’ and went on to describe the horse as the best sprinter he had ever ridden.
Hanagan hasn’t been champion since 2011 but is still one of the best jockeys in the business and as determined as ever for major race wins. He has started off 2016 on a successful note, winning his first Group 1 race in Dubai on ‘Muarrab’ in March. He will now be looking to ride over 100 season winners in Great Britain for an impressive eighth consecutive year. He will also be looking for more Group 1 success and it would take a brave man to bet against him achieving it.