Dessie Hughes, one of the few men to both ride and train a Champion Hurdle winner and father of the Champion Flat jockey, Richard, has died, aged 71. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
There was a minute's silence at Cheltenham yesterday, the scene of so much of his success, and the jockeys wore black armbands as a mark of respect. If success at the Festival is one measure of an Irishman - and rest assured, it still is - Hughes was one of the greats.
As a jockey, he rode eight winners there, all in the latter part of his career and in the days when it was a three-day meeting and winners did not seemingly grow on trees, as they do now. He was in his early 30s when he rode the first of them on Davy Lad in the 1975 Neptune Investment Hurdle and, two years later, he rode the Mick O'Toole-trained gelding to win the Gold Cup.
O'Toole said: "Dessie was with me a long time and it was a lucky day for me when he came along. We had many great days together, and he rode six Cheltenham Festival winners for me."
As a jockey, however, Hughes will be best remembered for his 1979 Champion Hurdle-winning ride on Monksfield, which beat the Jonjo O'Neill-ridden Sea Pigeon. O'Neill said: "Dessie was a grand fellow, a great trainer and a great jockey, a lovely man. The only bad bit was that he was such a hard jockey to beat. He was very strong, had a good racing brain and, if you followed him, you never went far wrong."
The hugely liked and respected trainer then had to wait 21 years for his next Festival successes, this time as a trainer. The remarkable Hardy Eustace won the 2003 Neptune, followed by two Champion Hurdles.
Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for leading owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: "He was a fantastic trainer and a lovely man. He was a true gent. He will be sorely missed by all in racing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)