Hughes breaks with Abdullah to ride as freelance

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The Independent Online

One of the most successful jockey-owner partnerships of recent years, that between Richard Hughes and Khalid Abdullah, will shortly come to a formal end. The rider, who has been associated with the pink, white and green silks for seven years and followed Pat Eddery as number one in them when the 11-times champion retired at the end of 2003, has decided to ride as a freelance next year.

Hughes, 34, stressed that there had been no friction involved in the split, but that being his own man will give him more options. "I have thoroughly enjoyed the job," he said. "But nothing is forever, and it is just time to move on and look for fresh challenges. Both parties have agreed our partnership has run its course."

The Irishman notched nine top-level winners for Abdullah, starting with the 2001 Prix d'Ispahan on Observatory and including French Classics on Zenda and Nebraska Tornado and the domestic July Cup- Nunthorpe Stakes on champion sprinter Oasis Dream. But he nominated his most recent top-level success for the Juddmonte team, that on Passage Of Time in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud a year ago, as good as any. "There was no more special memory," he said, "than helping Henry Cecil celebrate his first Group One winner for more than six years."

Hughes is lying joint third in the jockeys' championship, which ends on 10 November, and is heading for his best-ever annual tally, currently one short of the 126 winners he rode in 2002. His score includes 34 of Abdullah's 63 winners in Britain, but perhaps more pertinent is his success for Richard Hannon, who does not number Abdullah among his patrons. He has ridden 48 winners for Hannon, for whom he has ridden more than any other trainer, who has used him more than any other jockey, and who gave him his sole Group One success this term, on Indian Ink in the Coronation Stakes. "Prince Khalid and I had a lot of luck together," he said, "and it was also always so satisfying getting to know the Juddmonte families and riding the brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of horses that I had ridden to victory in the past.

"But going freelance will make me much more available, and, besides committing myself more to Richard and to Brian Meehan, who have always been so supportive, I will hopefully be able to spread myself more."

The targets on the horizon for Hughes, son of leading jumps trainer Dessie, include a return to his roots. He has ridden in two of the past four bumpers at the Cheltenham Festival and wants more of that game. "National Hunt racing is in my blood," he added, "and while the Flat will always be the number one priority, I'd love to give jumping a go again and the ambition has always been to take the odd ride over fences."

Hughes was in action in his native Co Kildare yesterday, riding the 5-1 favourite Munnings in the Irish Cesarewitch for Tony Martin, who had sent out Leg Spinner to take the original at Newmarket on Saturday. But the double was never on the cards; dual champion hurdler Hardy Eustace – trained by Hughes senior, of course – towed the field into the straight, but Munnings could finish only an unsighted eighth as Sandymount Earl shot three lengths clear in the final furlong.

The 12-1 winner continued the codes crossover theme; his trainer Jessica Harrington, best known for her jumping stars, has had a fine autumn with her Flat horses, notably Beresford Stakes winner Curtain Call, scheduled to run in Saturday's Racing Post Trophy.

And he provided Seamus Heffernan with the final leg of a 389-1 treble instigated by two Aidan O'Brien juveniles, the Johannesburg colt Jupiter Pluvius (5-1), who made a most competent debut in the six-furlong maiden, and the Danehill Dancer filly Savethisdanceforme (4-1), who followed up her fourth place in the Prix Marcel Boussac and laid down her Oaks credentials by leaving her rivals nine lengths in her wake in the Listed mile contest.