Richard Hughes times his departure to perfection

It’s always been a question of timing with Richard Hughes.

That reassuring sight of the 42-year-old jockey, buried within a ruck of horses before arriving with precise lateness, will melt into the midsummer horizon at Goodwood today.

There were many caught on the hop by Hughes’ decision to retire earlier than had been anticipated.

There are also many who feel he still has much more to give.

This is, of course, perfectly true. Had he not decided to embark upon a new vocation in the fraught world of training, Hughes would easily have been able to serve his sport with nuance and rhythm for many more years.

But, quite like that effortless control which made him such a master craftsman on the racecourse, the three-times champion is getting out at exactly the right moment.

It makes sense that the most prolific jockey over the last three years should bring to an end his career at Goodwood, the track at which his patience has been the most virtuously rewarding.

The switch from riding to training, too, is not an overnight transition, with his attendance at the autumnal yearling sales imperative if his Hampshire yard is to become an instant hit next year.

He might not admit it publicly, either, but perhaps a lack of genuinely explosive artillery has hastened the departure from the weighing room.

Yes, the Hannon team will continue to fire out winners with almost carefree regularity. And, yes, there will almost certainly be a few more precocious young bucks waiting to gallop into the Classic picture.

But of the older horses under Hannon’s care, Hughes will know better than anyone that there is no edge-of-the-seat, box-office draw compared to the likes of Canford Cliffs, Olympic Glory and Toronado.

Perhaps it’s always been a bit like that, though.

Even in spite of the astonishing number of Group races proudly embossed across the CV, Hughes’ range of thoroughbred has, more often than not, fallen ever so slightly below top class.

During his seven-year tenure as retained jockey for Prince Khalid Abdullah, and, latterly, with the Hannon operation, the Irishman never seemed to ride the very best when it mattered the most.

That he only won his only domestic Classics in 2013 almost feels sacrilege, and lends weight to that theory — as does the fact he signs off without a Derby victory.

It could be his invariable absence from the biggest podiums in Flat racing also contributed to the occasional sense of detachment from the racing public. Hughes doesn’t have the Dettori gold-dust, nor the genius of Ryan Moore, and has always been a divisive figure in the eyes of racing’s greatest philosophers — the punters.

Visit one of the many bookmakers on your high street and chances are you’d get a rather colourful appraisal of Hughes’ skills from one or two firebrands only too keen to shout the odds.

But that is the nature of the beast, and Hughes knows it.

He is never happier, and never better, than when delivering his mount from off generous pace — bobbing and weaving his way to victory like a cunning featherweight with soft hands.

It’s a bold, harum-scarum approach to riding, and one which often provokes deep criticism if a jockey’s fractions are even slightly askew.

Dettori and Moore get it wrong, but punters never remember those miscalculations, whereas they never forget when a Hughes masterplan unravels.

It is hoped his absence will make those stony hearts grow fonder of a jockey who deserves to remembered as one of the best of his generation.

Allied to his undiluted talent, Hughes is one of the most thoughtful, honest and dedicated members of the weighing room.

He also has an opinion and is not afraid to stay true to his instincts. Just look at how he led the jockeys’ rebellion over controversial changes to the whip rules by handing in his licence four years ago.

His actions spoke far more loudly than any of the hollow chuntering from his colleagues, with the laws eventually softened and Hughes back in the saddle not long afterwards.

That rare talent of being able to fight for a cause with unstinting belief, in spite of the considerable risks, will come in extremely handy when thoughts soon turn to training.

Riding, revolt and retirement. Richard Hughes timed things to perfection.

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