It is fortunate Richard Hughes never felt pressure in the saddle because he had the weight of a racing nation on his back when he left the weighing room to partner Free Agent for the late Queen at Royal Ascot in 2008.
The former jockey rode over 50 winners in the red and purple silks, but this would be the only time he returned to the winner’s enclosure at the Royal meeting donning the famous colours as the son of Dr Fong ground his way to Chesham Stakes glory.
The victory of Free Agent ended a nine-year drought at the summer showpiece for the late Queen and proved a fitting way to celebrate the unveiling of the new grandstand at Ascot, which was being used at the summer showpiece for the first time.
But for connections it was a successful culmination of a plan hatched in the sitting room at trainer Richard Hannon senior’s East Everleigh base in the spring of that year, months before Free Agent ever set foot on track.
“It was one of those times where you plan something in the spring and it all worked out lovely,” said Hughes.
“It normally doesn’t work out like that, but we sat down at Easter time and said this is what we were going to do and luckily we pulled it off. Well Richard (Hannon) pulled it off – it was brilliant.”
It was plain sailing when Free Agent romped to a five-length winning debut at Leicester, but things were not so straightforward just 19 days later when he stepped up to seven furlongs for his Chesham assignment.
“It was a funny race and I couldn’t go any faster the whole way,” Hughes continued.
“I was last, I think, at halfway and hanging on to their tails and he just outstayed them.
“We were confident going in, but at halfway I thought I would be no better than fourth. I genuinely couldn’t go any quicker. He was a bit lazy.
“He passed one or two around halfway and then got rolling, it was hard work but he got the job done. He ended up a two-mile horse, so he did well to win a Chesham to be fair to him.”
Hughes rode 31 winners at Royal Ascot over the course of his career, but not many measure up to that moment 15 years ago and the thrill of steering home Free Agent as he enjoyed one of his greatest days at the Berkshire track.
He added: “I was lucky I never felt pressure. I don’t know why, but throughout my career I just never felt it. I embraced and enjoyed it – I loved it. I feel it now – I feel sick now when they are running.
“It was the first year with the new grandstand and the Queen hadn’t had a winner there for a good few years, so it was huge. It was probably one of my most enjoyable Ascot winners. It was a great day, it was huge.
“I remember saluting the Queen, she was up in her box when I pulled up, it was a great day. The fact she hadn’t had a winner there for so long made it brilliant.”