Born in Dublin, Ireland on 11th January 1973, Richard Hughes was destined to be a jockey. His father Dessie was one of the leading Irish jump jockeys during the 1960’s and 70’s before moving on to a successful training career, which gave Hughes Jr an insight into horse racing from a young age.
Having spent a lot of time around horses and becoming hooked on everything equine, Hughes began Pony racing at the age of seven and went on to become a two-time champion Pony race jockey.
It wasn’t long before that led to a career in horse racing and he rode his first winner in the professional world at Roscommon at the age of 15. That was on a horse named ‘Viking Melody’, trained by his father, and was the first of approximately 3000 winners during a 27 year riding career.
He was obviously a talented horseman but didn’t find instant success as a jockey, despite that first winner at such a tender age. Being somewhat taller than pretty much every other jockey, Hughes had to fight hard to keep his weight down during his career and perhaps had less chances than the smaller riders. He had to wait until the year 2000 before he rode 100 winners in a single season, something he went on to do twelve more times before his retirement.
Although he is respected in the sport for his stylistic and gentle riding style, where he nurses the horse along the course rather than riding it hard, a surprising moment of controversy almost derailed his career before it reached its peak. In October 2011, Hughes announced he was quitting horse racing and giving up his licence, which was in protest at a five-day ban he received for over-use of the whip at Kempton. Luckily, for him and racing fans alike, he didn’t follow up on this threat and went on to become champion flat jockey three times in the next few years.
A year after this controversial moment in his career, in October 2012, he equalled the record set by Frankie Dettori in having seven winners at a single meeting. His seven winners from eight races at Windsor was the highlight of his 2012 season and occurred just a month before winning his first champion flat jockey title. Those seven were among his 172 winners for 2012 and he had an even better season retaining his champion title in 2013. Riding 208 winners that year, he became the first jockey to win over 200 flat races in a single season since Kieron Fallon did it in 2003. He then went on to make it three champion titles in a row in 2014, riding 161 winners.
It was in May 2013 that Hughes finally won a long-awaited British classic race for the first time. After a career spanning almost 25 years, he rode ‘Sky Lantern’ to victory in the 1000 Guineas for an overdue win. He followed that first one up just a month later with victory on ‘Talent’ in the Oaks at Epsom and went on to win several more.
He decided to call time on his riding career in 2015 and rode in his last race on the 1st August at Goodwood, a course that was close to his heart and where he had a lot of success. He rode the winner in over 170 races, with a third of those being at the Glorious Goodwood festival, and it was no surprise that he would choose there to be the setting of his farewell.
Outside of horse racing, Hughes released an autobiography in 2012 titled ‘A weight off my mind’. This book was an honest and sometimes shocking account of his battles with his own body and mind, including the extreme measures he resorted to in order to keep his weight down and also his deep descent into alcoholism.
He is married to Lizzie Hannon, the daughter of great ex-trainer Richard and sister to current licence holder Richard Jr, and they have two children together.
After retiring from his riding career he immediately moved on to a new vocation as a racehorse trainer. He saddled his first runner in September 2015 when ‘Castle Talbot’, ridden by Shane Kelly, finished fourth of nine in a 1-mile handicap at Epsom Downs. He went on to have nine winners from 43 runners, all on the all-weather, at the end of 2015 and has had five winners on the AW at the start of 2016.
Based at Weathercock House stables in Lambourn, former stables of Grand National winning trainer Jenny Pitman, the talented and ambitious horseman is hoping to replicate his riding success as a trainer.
Deemed too tall and too heavy to be a jockey, but far too talented to be anything else, Richard Hughes became a racing superstar during his brilliant career and will deservedly be remembered as one of the most successful flat jockeys in history.