Richard Hughes joins Frankie Dettori up in seven heaven after beating odds of 10,168-1
A season dominated by Frankel reaches a poignant finale in what is expected to prove his final appearance at Ascot on Saturday. But even he will do well to match the emphasis with which its outstanding jockey sealed his status yesterday.
Seven winners for Richard Hughes at Windsor - out of eight races - set a spectacular seal on his first title. A card of humdrum handicaps and maidens in heavy ground hardly seems eligible for comparison with the one monopolised by Frankie Dettori, when he won all seven races at Ascot on 28 September 1996. But these were competitive races of their type - as attested by cumulative odds of 10,168-1.
Having arrived on 155 winners, a lead of 42 over Silvestre de Sousa, Hughes already held an unassailable lead with just four weeks to go. But he will relish the ceremonial quality to the run-in now, having endured tense, attritional duels when missing out narrowly in the past. And the whole professional community will be united in satisfaction that a horseman of such consummate flair should now have won respect even from those who measure jockeys by mere quantity.
For it is unlikely to be a coincidence that Hughes should have won all these races on a day when conditions were so demanding. His silky hands have always prompted his mounts to give their all on the bridle, and those who depend on hauling extra effort by the coarse agency of the whip would never conserve as much petrol.
As it happens, Hughes suffered his only defeat on what had seemed one of his best chances from seven booked mounts - finishing third on Ever Fortune, 2-1 favourite for the sixth race. Bookmakers were certainly relieved, and likewise by the fact that his seventh winner - Mama Quilla in the final race - was a late spare, not listed in the morning papers. One Ladbrokes customer none the less collected £159,430.39 through a series of multiple bets on the first six.
Mama Quilla had been surrendered by Ryan Moore after his overnight journey from Canada. "Ryan was looking a bit pasty, but he's one of my greatest friends as well - so that's what a gentleman he is," Hughes said gratefully. "What a thrill! I'm over the moon, it's great to do it. I always said I might do it one day at Windsor, my lucky track.
"Every day my kid, Harvey, says: 'How many winners today? Six or seven?' I tell him I won't ride that many - but I have today. It's been one thing after another, this year, and I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people, especially my agent, Tony Hind. And without Richard Hannon, I wouldn't be doing any of it."
Hannon, though himself destined to lose the trainers' title he has won for the past two years, has again been a mainstay for Hughes, who is married to his daughter, Lizzie. But the layman should not be deceived that Hughes is remotely indebted to nepotism as he crowns a talent that has sometimes evoked memories of Lester Piggott himself. At 5ft 10in, certainly, he has been a Long Fellow for his own generation.
In younger days, height caused Hughes problems in controlling his weight, and in his recent autobiography he recounted in candid detail his ensuing battle with drink. At 39, however, he has reached his absolute pomp. Yet yesterday was almost the precise anniversary of the emotional night at Kempton, last year, when he discarded his licence in protest at ham-fisted new whip regulations. The fact that they could snare even so harmonious a finisher proved pivotal in the humiliating volte-face that soon followed from the authorities, and Hughes soon returned to the fray.
Dettori himself is on the brink of a new statistical summit, having ridden his 199th Group One winner in Toronto on Sunday night. His performance on Joshua Tree in the Canadian International offered timely proof that he remains arguably the world's most accomplished rider - even if his present differences with Sheikh Mohammed, his employer for nearly two decades, prove insurmountable.
Riding for his compatriot Marco Botti, Dettori simply hypnotised his rivals from the front. Going into overdrive in the straight, Joshua Tree was all out to stem the late, wide burst of Dandino by half a length. Dettori was rightly proud of his masterclass. "I was very happy after half a mile," he said. "At the end, I was the hare and the hounds were coming - but he fought right to the line."
Seven up: Hughes' winners
Pivotal Moment (Odds: 13-8)
East Texas Red (5-2)
Magic Secret (4-1)
Links Drive Lady (5-2)
Duke of Clarence (7-4)
Mama Quilla (15-8)
Chris McGrath's Nap: Arctic Lynx (7.20 Wolverhampton)
New stable excels with sprinters and this one made an encouraging start round here last week.
Next Best: Hard Road (8.50 Wolverhampton)
Stamina repeatedly exhausted by going or distance until shaping much better at Kempton last time.
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