Love Island star Chris Hughes preparing for York charity race at Jackdaws Castle
From Love Island to the Knavesmire. It’s a long haul but Chris Hughes has bridged the gap as he is set to ride in public for the first time when taking part in the Best Western Hotels & Macmillan Ride Of Their Lives charity race at York on Saturday.
Hughes, 25, who finished in joint-third spot with then girlfriend Olivia Attwood in last year’s series of Love Island, has been busy preparing for his day of reckoning since February by riding out at trainer Jonjo O’Neill’s Jackdaws Castle base.
He has been coached by former jockey Dominic Elsworth and feels he is more than ready to meet Saturday's challenge.
He says: “I'm fully prepared and can't wait for it all to happen. I've been building up to this weekend for over three months.
“I'm not nervous at the moment but know I will be about half an hour before the race – the jockeys' changing room is going to be an interesting place as there will be some sweating going on, but once I'm out on the course it’s going to be just fine.”
Made the leap
Although who rides what in the race remains fluid, Hughes expects to partner the Richard Fahey-trained Carnageo.
“I rode out at Mr Fahey’s yard last week and everything went well so hopefully I've a good spin to look forward to at York," says Hughes, adding, and sounding like a proper jockey, "but glancing at the horse’s form perhaps a drop of rain might not go amiss.”
Explaining how he made the leap from surprise smash hit Love Island – the current series of which is up and running on ITV2 – to being a jockey, Hughes explains: “I've ridden on and off all my life as I used to hunt and do pony club and things like that.
"I actually went to school with Sam and Willy Twiston-Davies, Kieran and Conor Shoemark, and Tom and Archie Bellamy.
"After school I was thinking of going down the football route and had stints with the Swindon youth team before joining Cheltenham Town and then moving on to Kettering, but it wasn’t really for me.
"I applied for the Love Island gig, somehow got it, and the rest is history."
With 2.9 million viewers tuning in to last year's final of Love Island, Hughes has spent the best part of a year in the media headlights, much of it focused on his love life.
“The tabloid press attention is sometimes a bit much as some papers make out I have a new girlfriend every week, but it’s not true – I am too knackered after doing all the early mornings getting myself ready for Saturday’s race," says Hughes.
"Perhaps when this is done and dusted there might be time for a spot of romance, but I’m 100 per cent single now.
“I'm at Jonjo’s at least three times a week and he and Dominic have been exceptional. They've taught me everything I know about race-riding.
"Jonjo tells me if I look overweight – which is not often now as I've given up curries and beer and been drinking just water for the past few weeks – or if I've done something stupid. He’s been great.”
Bromance back on
Hughes and his best mate from Love Island Kem Cetinay hit the pop charts last year with a single entitled Little Bit Leave It, and are all set to team up again on ITV2 with a series called You vs Chris And Kem, the pilot of which is currently being filmed.
Hughes adds: “It’s all on the back-burner in my mind at present as Saturday’s race takes precedence over everything. I've been lucky enough to become a Coral ambassador and they're helping me fulfil a childhood dream of riding in a proper race.
“On Saturday I'm appearing on ITV’s Opening Show with Oli Bell, Mick Fitzgerald and Jason Weaver, and that should start the day off fine.
"I then hope it finishes on a winning note and I can lead the way home in the charity race, and help raise plenty of money for Macmillan.”
Read exclusive previews of York's June meeting from 6pm tomorrow on racingpost.com