There’s no further local racing until Carlisle stage their first fixture of 2020 on Monday, February 3.

But judging 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.

Hughes 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, exactly level with the current total of 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.

Johnson 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 Hughes is his stature as the north’s outstanding jumps jockey and one imagines that his agent, Cumbria-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 this indeed proves to be the case, then it alone will pose a serious threat to Johnson’s title claims.

Hughes rode the winners of the two feature races at last Saturday’s Doncaster meeting in contrasting styles. On the 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. Hughes 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 Hughes’ coaxing to overhaul the market leader close home and win at the generous price of 4/1. Richards was delighted at the outcome, though, warned that the mare might now have to step up to Graded company for her next outing.

Hughes extended his winning sequence and initiated his Carlisle four-timer with an effortless success in the opener on the 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, Mania 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 Thomson. He gave both his 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, never gave up the pursuit and with the leader starting to tread water inside the final 100 yards, stormed up the final stretch to score by a neck.