ALMOST a year to the day after Richard Hughes threatened to quit the saddle after being handed a 15-day ban for breaking controversial new whip rules, the Kildare native rode an astonishing 10,168/1 seven-timer at Windsor.
Twelve months ago, Hughes took a principled stand and stepped down in protest -- refusing to ride at the inaugural British Champions Day at Ascot. A year on, and it is a very different story.
Yesterday, Hughes -- who is so far ahead in the jockeys' title race (155 wins, with his nearest challenger Silvestre De Sousa on 113) that he could stop now and still be crowned champion for the first time -- rode seven winners on an eight-race card at Windsor in the most sustained display of skill and finesse on one afternoon since Frankie Dettori won all seven races at Ascot in September 1996.
While a statue of Dettori was erected at Ascot to commemorate the Italian's 'Magnificent Seven', it remains to be seen what Windsor come up with, though it is unlikely to be financed by bookmakers, who were claiming last night that Hughes had cost them many millions on what had appeared, in prospect, a relatively harmless, mundane Monday.
The accumulative odds of the 39-year-old's seven winners were 10,168/1. In 1996, Dettori's 25,095/1 Ascot accumulator was reckoned to have ruined some bookmakers.
"I'm over the moon," Hughes said. "Windsor is my lucky track, and this is a great day. I wouldn't have any of this if not for Richard Hannon," he added in gratitude to his father-in-law, the trainer, who supplied him with three of his winners -- namely Pivotal Movement, which carried the colours of Alex Ferguson, East Texas Red and the determined Duke Of Clarence.
Hughes' other winners were the Amanda Perrett-trained Embankment in the colours of Khalid Abdulla, the Jeremy Gask-trained Magic Secret, Dean Ivory's Links Drive Lady and the William Haggas-trained Mama Quilla in the finale.
Mama Quilla had been listed as one of Ryan Moore's rides, but the former champion gave up the mount to Hughes, who has the same agent, Tony Hind. "Ryan's one of my greatest friends," Hughes said.
The jockey's only loser for the day was Ever Fortune, trained by Rae Guest, which finished third in the sixth race. The three-year-old looked to have a chance half a mile out but faded under pressure.
Gordon Richards went through a six-race card at Chepstow, part of a run of 12 consecutive winners over three days, during his hugely successful career but when Dettori made history by riding seven winners at one meeting in 1996 it was widely predicted it would never happen again. Now Hughes has joined him in the history books.
Hughes -- son of leading Curragh trainer Dessie -- will be a popular winner of the jockeys' title when the Flat season ends an Doncaster on November 10.
He has overcome a drink problem and on-going issues with his weight -- subjects that are dealt with frankly in his autobiography, 'A Weight Off My Mind', in which he tells of the turmoil he and his family endured -- and he was quick to pay tribute to his wife Lizzie and family.
"Every day my kid, Harvey, says, 'How many winners today? Six or seven?' I tell him I won't ride that many, but I have today," he explained.
"It's been one thing after another this year and I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people, especially my agent, Tony Hind. Ryan was looking a bit pasty but he's one of my greatest friends as well, so that's what a gentleman he is -- what a thrill."
The bookmakers, meanwhile, were united in their grief following Hughes' heroics. Paddy Power, representing the bookmakers of the same name, said: "Hughesie getting beaten in the sixth leg saved us a pay-out that would have been close to £2m.
"It's still been an expensive day as one punter won £85,000 -- it's probably cost us three-quarters of a million pounds." (© Daily Telegraph, London)