Dessie Hughes was described as the "professional’s professional" by Willie Mullins as tributes poured in from the racing world following the Kildare trainer’s death at the age of 71.
Hughes, who enjoyed great success both as a rider and trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in a career spanning more than 50 years, passed away after a battle with cancer.
He rose to the top of both professions, with highlights including riding Monksfield to win the Champion Hurdle in 1979 and also saddling Hardy Eustace to victory in the Cheltenham Festival highlight in 2004 and 2005.
Hughes is survived by his wife Eileen, son and three-time champion Flat jockey Richard and daughter Sandra.
Champion trainer Mullins told At The Races: “I would call him the professional’s professional. He very seldom made a wrong choice.
“I remember the first time I rode in a professional race at Punchestown and I thought I’d follow Dessie Hughes.
“He won the race. I was third or fourth and I got such an insight on how to ride a race.
“He was a fantastic jockey and brought that same ability to his training career. He always had a top team of horses and a great team of loyal owners. He had a great team behind him. Our sympathy is with everyone.”
Top owner JP McManus said: “It’s a sad day, you could feel it the minute you walked into Punchestown how low the mood is.
“Dessie was a perfect gentleman, trainer, jockey – he was everything you would want in a person.
“He will be missed, but he won’t be forgotten. His family are all in our thoughts.”
Ruby Walsh told Racing UK: “Dessie Hughes was an absolute gentleman and I suppose he was one of the last old school Irish jockeys come trainers.
“He was a very good trainer with horses like Hardy Eustace and many great horses, but he was an absolute gentleman and a brilliant family man. ”
Conor O’Dwyer, who rode Hardy Eustace in both his Champion Hurdle triumphs, said: “There’s gentlemen and then there was Dessie Hughes. I’ve ridden for many good people during my career, but Dessie really stood out as a proper gentleman.”
Hughes trained at Osborne Lodge, just off the Curragh, and had a terrific record at Cheltenham, as a jockey and trainer.
He rode Davy Lad, trained by Mick O’Toole, to win the Gold Cup in 1977 and also took the Champion Hurdle on Monksfield (Dessie McDonogh), beating Sea Pigeon, in ’79.
Other Cheltenham successes that came his way as a jockey were Chinrullah (Arkle Trophy), Davy Lad (SunAlliance Hurdle), Parkhill (SunAlliance Hurdle) Mac’s Chariot (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Bit Of A Jig (Stayers’ Hurdle).
He also won the Champion Chase on Chinrullah, but the horse was later disqualified.
Hughes began training in 1980 and two years later saddled Miller Hill, partnered by Tom Morgan, to win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
In 1985 Chow Mein won the Galway Plate for him, but there then followed many years when Hughes’ horses were out of form, the blame being laid on a persistent bug in his yard.
Over the past ten years or more, however, Hughes’ charges were in much better shape and he trained many big-race winners.
His most famous horse as a trainer was Hardy Eustace. He won the 2003 SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, ridden by the late Kieran Kelly.
Hardy Eustace then followed by winning the Champion Hurdle, Conor O’Dwyer was now in the plate, in 2004 and again in 2005. He won over €1m in prize money.
Another major flag-bearer for Hughes was Central House, successful in five Grade 2’s and a Grade 1.
Hughes’ last Cheltenham success was with Our Conor, ridden by Bryan Cooper, who landed last year’s Triumph Hurdle in spectacular fashion by 15 lengths.
Our Conor, however, returned to Cheltenham in March for the Champion Hurdle and tragically was killed when taking a fatal fall at the third flight.
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