Hughes joins illustrious list of Irish champions
ALTHOUGH the outcome had been assured for some weeks, Richard Hughes was formally crowned champion British Flat jockey at Doncaster.
It was a fitting reward for someone who has matured into one of the most accomplished riders of his generation, a supreme stylist who might just as easily have excelled over jumps.
Son of Curragh trainer Dessie, who partnered both a Cheltenham Gold Cup ( Davy Lad) and Champion Hurdle (Monksfield) winner during his riding days, the 39-year-old displayed all the dash that he is synonymous with on the Flat in his once frequent hurdling forays.
In the 1997 Irish Champion Hurdle, a typically polished steer saw him lead late to deny Theatreworld on Noel Meade's Cockney Lad. Second to Istabraq on His Song in the same race in 1998, he has yet to emulate his father's feat of a Cheltenham Festival winner.
His Song's second to French Ballerina in the 1998 Supreme Novices' Hurdle is his best finish, though Hughes himself acknowledges that he should have probably won the 1997 Stayers' Hurdle on Paddy's Return. Contrary to instructions, he got an uncharacteristic rush of blood on Ferdy Murphy's enigmatic hold-up horse, swooping into a 12-length lead out of the back straight, before his mount tied up, eventually finishing third to Karshi.
While he never held any aspirations to focus on jumping, the fact that he was regularly used by Martin Pipe -- whom he won on Daraydan at Cheltenham in December 1996 before finishing third to Istabraq in the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle -- was a fine endorsement of his versatility.
Hughes hasn't ridden under National Hunt rules since 2009, but he hasn't given up hope on that Festival first and is also keen to test his mettle with a spin over fences.
The Flat, however, always appealed to him most, despite towering above his colleagues at 5ft 10in. His inevitable battle with the scales contributed to a destructive alcohol problem that, with the help of his old friend Johnny Murtagh, he has been on top of since 2005.
Following his split from Khalid Abdullah after seven years in 2007, his association with his father-in-law Richard Hannon has flourished, the partnership enjoying its first Classic victory when Canford Cliffs cruised home in the 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh in 2010.
This year, Sky Lantern enjoyed a similarly facile triumph in the Moyglare Stud Stakes in September.
A month later at Windsor, Hughes equalled Frankie Dettori's record of seven winners on one card. While Dettori achieved his 1996 clean sweep on one of the biggest Saturdays of the year at Ascot, Hughes did so at a less glamorous outpost on a Monday, and his willingness to frequent such nondescript fixtures has seen him finish runner-up in the jockeys' championship four times in 10 years, Paul Hanagan just edging him out 191-189 in 2010.
Now, 12 months after striking in protest at the controversial whip amendments, he is champion jockey. He had 41 to spare over Silvestre de Souza, a margin that enabled him to become just the fourth Irish-born rider to top the pile since the War, following on from 11-time holder Pat Eddery, Kieren Fallon (six) and Jamie Spencer (twice, including one shared).
Up-and-coming Tyrone-based handler Andy Oliver has been nominated alongside some of the game's most distinguished names in a shortlist of five for this year's Horse Racing Ireland Awards Flat gong.
In a fantastic campaign, Oliver, whose fellow nominees are Aidan and Joseph O'Brien, Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger, has saddled 29 winners since January, the highlight of which was Sendmylovetorose's victory in the Group Two Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket in July.
Champion jockey Davy Russell, Barry Geraghty, Tony Martin, and Tom and Willie Mullins have had their excellent respective seasons acknowledged with nominations in the National Hunt category, while Peter Casey (Flemenstar), Tom Gibney (Irish Grand National-winning trainer) and Mick Winters (Rebel Fitz) are all up for the outstanding achievement award.
Ray Hurley, whose 15-year-old 2006 Foxhunters' hero Whyso Mayo won a Bandon 'point' 10 years after losing his maiden at the same venue, is up for the point-to-point honour along with Colman Sweeney, Derek O'Connor and Jamie Codd.
Dawn Approach, Camelot, Excelebration, Hurricane Fly, Sizing Europe and Quevega contest the Horse of the Year category.
Jezki earns trip
The Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki, eighth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March, will tackle the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on December 2 after maintaining its 100pc record over hurdles at Naas on Saturday.
The four-year-old came readily clear from the last to justify 13/8 favouritism under Barry Geraghty, with Dermot Weld's dual Grade One-winner Hisaabaat well held in fourth.
Three-time bumper winner Rory O'Moore was the most impressive winner on the card. Returned at an SP of 11/4, Ronnie O'Neill's Andrew McNamara-ridden seven-year-old relishing the heavy going to make all for a 31-length rout of Harrington's odds-on Operating.
At Limerick yesterday, Martin Hassett's Bullet Street (20/1) recorded a stylish triumph under the Killenaule handler's nephew Shane, though the riding honours went to Jane Mangan, who showed what a refined talent she is in driving her father Jimmy's Dont Tell Pa (11/4) to a third win on the spin in the handicap hurdle. Just as she did at the same fixture in 2011, the 18-year-old CIT student completed a brace in the bumper on Charlie Swan's Casablanca Lily.
690,187 Overturn's career earnings in sterling after the brilliantly adaptable front-runner turned in a devastating performance on his chasing bow at Sandown on Saturday. Don McCain's 2010 Galway Hurdle victor was cut to 8/1 second favourite behind Simonsig for Arkle glory at Cheltenham in March after his flawless round of fencing under Jason Maguire.
1The still exquisite Timmy Murphy made the most of his single ride at Wincanton on Saturday, the Kildare native at his sympathetic best in coaxing The Package home in the Badger Ales Chase.