Jump racing icon Dessie Hughes dies aged 71

Dessie Hughes

Dessie Hughes: scaled the heights of jump racing as a jockey and trainer

  PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)  

DESSIE HUGHES, who scaled the heights of jump racing as a jockey and trainer, has died at the age of 71.

Hughes rode Monksfield to win the Champion Hurdle in 1979 and also captured the race as a trainer when saddling Hardy Eustace to victory in 2004 and 2005.

He is survived by his wife Eileen, son and three-time champion jockey Richard and daughter Sandra.

Richard Hughes, who recently won his third title, dedicated the success to his father in the Racing Post last month.

Richard Hughes

Richard Hughes: dedicated
jockeys’ title win to his father

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker 

He wrote: “After every winner I rode I would look for his approval. He has always been my mentor, my biggest supporter and my biggest critic. That has been the case throughout my career, from my time spending the weekends going across Ireland pony racing right up to the present day.

“From the age of seven he has been tutoring me, advising me and helping me. He was always hard but fair. He would drum things into me, things like ‘the last jockey who goes for his whip is the one who wins’ and ‘you win your race at the start not the end’. All his advice stood me in good stead. It has been instrumental in me becoming champion jockey. That I have got to the level I’ve reached is down to him and what he taught me.

“I vowed to do everything I could to defend the title for him. He was the one I was doing it for. I know how much he wanted me to do it and I know how proud of me he is now I have done it. I was with him the other day when there was a news story on TV about Richard Hughes winning the jockeys’ championship for the third time and I could see what it meant to him.”

Born on October 10, 1943, Hughes rode his first winner for Willie O’Grady aboard Sailaway Sailor at Tramore on June 11, 1962.

However, his delight was short-lived, as he lost the race in the stewards’ room, his mount placed last behind the promoted Duffcarrig, trained by Tom Dreaper and ridden by Pat Taaffe.

Three days later O’Grady gave him a second chance on Sailaway Sailor at Ballinrobe and there were no mistakes. His first winner over jumps came later that year on Baxier at Limerick on December 27.

Although his career as a jockey took a while to ignite, including a three-month stint spent in hospitals recovering from a fall, it was soon to get going.


Monksfield: provided Hughes with Champion Hurdle glory in the saddle

  PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)  

Davy Lad became his first Cheltenham Festival winner when taking what is now the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 1975.

Several more victories followed, most notably Davy Lad’s Gold Cup win in 1977, while Hughes was also called up to ride Monksfield for Des McDonogh in what is regarded as one of the finest hurdle races of all time, dead-heating with Night Nurse in the Templegate Hurdle.

It was aboard Monksfield that Hughes won the Champion Hurdle in 1979, the same year he started his training career from the historic Osborne Lodge yard adjacent to the Curragh racecourse.

His first runner was a winner – Church Island at Fairyhouse on January 1, 1980 – and it was not long before he made his mark again at the Cheltenham Festival when Miller Hill won the 1982 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

However, after a promising start to his new career, the early 1990s proved lean, with the yard laid low by aspergillus, a fungal infection derived from straw that proved hard to eradicate.

Hardy Eustace (Conor O'Dwyer) - 2004 Champion Hurdle

Hardy Eustace: won the Champion Hurdle in both 2004 and 2005

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

A revival followed in the latter half of the 1990s before Central House and Hardy Eustace signified a change in the stable’s fortunes.

Hardy Eustace won 12 of his 41 races over hurdles, first earning Grade 1 honours as a novice in the 2002-03 season, winning the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and the Royal Sun Alliance Hurdle (now the Neptune) at Cheltenham, ridden by stable jockey Kieran Kelly.

The death of Kelly, following a fall at Kilbeggan in August 2003, was a shattering blow for Hughes and all at Osborne Lodge, and it was a poignant occasion when Conor O’Dwyer made all for a 33-1 success on Hardy Eustace in the 2004 Champion Hurdle, a success he repeated 12 months later when outbattling the talented Harchibald in a famous tussle up the Cheltenham hill.

Our Conor provided Hughes with his final Cheltenham Festival winner in 2013 in the Triumph Hurdle before suffering a fatal injury in the Champion Hurdle at this year’s meeting.


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