Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 16 December 2017

Hughes enjoying life in the fast lane for all, writes Julian Muscat

Goodwood tour de force silences Irish jockey's critics once and

Canford Cliffs, with Richard Hughes up, on their way to winning the Irish 2,000 Guineass at the Curragh last May. Photo: Barry Cronin / Sportsfile
Canford Cliffs, with Richard Hughes up, on their way to winning the Irish 2,000 Guineass at the Curragh last May. Photo: Barry Cronin / Sportsfile

HE makes it look so easy. So sang the Goodwood galleries as Richard Hughes turned the recent July Festival into a personal tour de force. Bookmakers ran out of cash and local pubs ran dry as punters raised their glasses to the Irishman who delivered on a succession of well-backed favourites.

Hughes took the plaudits gracefully, as sanguine in victory as he is unbowed in defeat. It will ever be thus for the man who has made the headlines in Britain this year. He knows that triumph generates an excess of bonhomie, while hard experience has taught him that defeat bestows criticism from the very punters he enriched at Goodwood.

It gets intensely personal on those internet forums. Richard Hughes is the WORST JOCKEY OF ALL TIME! Yet the man himself shrugs a genuine shrug of indifference at the vitriol. "At least I didn't get slagged off at Goodwood," he smiled. "Or hopefully I didn't, because I don't read what's on there anyway."

You'd have thought those forums would have been entirely free of Hughes throughout 2010. His alliance with Richard Hannon has been the prevailing theme.

Barely a week passes without trainer and jockey plundering one more valuable prize with a string long on talent.

Canford Cliffs is Europe's dominant three-year-old miler ahead of his stablemate, Dick Turpin. Paco Boy continues on his rampant way, and Hannon's two-year-olds are sweeping all before them. Strong Suit's defeat in Sunday's Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh was a rare interruption to the otherwise seamless flow.

Hughes arrived at The Curragh on the crest of a wave, having captained Ireland in the Shergar Cup the preceding day. And when Canford Cliffs won Goodwood's Sussex Stakes on July 28, it was his sixth Group One triumph in seven weeks.

Canford Cliffs is the perfect vehicle for Hughes to express himself. His electric turn of foot allows Hughes to indulge his trademark, loitering in rear before exploding late. And the Sussex Stakes made a fitting stage for their combined talent.

Rip Van Winkle's headlong charge for the line, two furlongs out, appeared decisive, especially with Hughes unpromisingly placed three lengths in arrears. Yet still he waited. And when he extricated the colt, Canford Cliffs promptly faltered as Rip Van Winkle forged on.

It looked all over, yet suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Hughes had Canford Cliffs alongside the Ballydoyle totem -- and back on the bridle as the combination reached the line a cosy neck to the good. Hughes had finessed victory with a sense of certainty that he alone seemed to harbour.

Hannon's sentiment afterwards -- "he nearly gave me a heart attack" -- was shared by all with their hard-earned money on Canford Cliffs. But then, after countless replays and endless dissection, everyone reached the same conclusion. "That Hughesy: he makes it look so easy."

In reality, as the jockey explained, it was anything but. "I could see Rip Van Winkle opening up at the three-furlong pole, but to go after him then would have meant coming three wide and into the open. I thought that might get my horse beat, so I waited.

"Then, when I eased him out to challenge, he hit some loose ground a furlong out and I had to wait some more because he wasn't ready to give his all at that point. He needed time to recover. Would you believe that some people thought I was showboating? I can assure you, I wasn't."

The fascinating aspect of Hughes' account is the clarity with which he recalls a series of incidents when he had split seconds to respond. And his daring brought a rare outpouring of emotion as racegoers flocked to the winner's circle to salute him.

"I was pretty much overwhelmed," Hughes reflected. "The reception we got was very special. I was surprised so many people seemed to recognise what happened out there. They sensed there was something unusual about the way I had ridden the horse."

Hughes (37) harnessed that momentum to post nine winners at the tricky Goodwood circuit. It was a record haul, eclipsing by one the mark shared by Kieren Fallon, Johnny Murtagh and Lester Piggott, who is Hughes' childhood hero. "Canford Cliffs was the big one," he said. "From then on, I was just able to enjoy it and ride Goodwood the way I wanted."

Despite his achievements this season, Hughes, the son of prominent jumps trainer Dessie, insists that nothing has changed. "The surest thing about racing is that you cannot go without the horse," he said. "The boss (Hannon) has better horses this year. Five years ago, he wouldn't have had a €200,000 horse in the yard but his son (also Richard) has brought in a few new clients who can spend that sort of money."

The difference is that Hughes is now getting up in the final furlong rather than finishing fast into second, in the process incurring the punter's wrath. When that happens the visual impression is that the jockey has mistimed his challenge, yet for all the flak Hughes has taken, he has never once compromised.

"I am not afraid of losing a race," he said, "and I am not afraid to get slagged off like I have been in the past, when I've known that my horse hasn't been good enough. Sometimes that happens because I'll get a horse closer to winning than it should have been.

"I'll finish second instead of fourth, but there'll be some wise guy who thinks I should have done things differently. But he doesn't know what I do. It might look like I'm going well at the furlong pole, but I know the horse is empty. And I'll never, ever hit a tired horse."

Despite the rich harvest, there is the promise of so much more to come. On Sunday, Hughes has realistic prospects of downing Goldikova aboard Paco Boy in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville.

He returns to the French coast the following Sunday on another juvenile bullet for the Prix Morny. And he heads for The Curragh the Sunday after that, when Memory will start at odds-on to win the Moyglare Stud Stakes.

It's no wonder retirement seems a long way off. "When I was 21 I thought I'd be finished by the time I was 35," he said, "but the older I get, the longer I want to go on. It's been a while coming, but I think people are realising that the way I ride horses is not so bad after all."

Irish Independent

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