Two Codes, One Sport

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Flat or jump. It’s all the same to me. It’s horse racing. Part of the reason I love European racing is because the two codes mesh. A winner at Cheltenham or a winner at Royal Ascot? Doesn’t matter, all goals, all accomplishments. Aidan O’Brien trained classic winners on the flat and over jumps. Dermot Weld, the same. Graham Lee rode on the flat, over jumps (winning the Grand National in 2004) and returned to the flat last spring. Champion jockey Richard Hughes has ridden both, loves both.

In March, Hughes finished 13th in the bumper (flat race) at Cheltenham for dual-purpose trainer Mick Channon. Hughes is the son of Irish steeplechase trainer Dessie, who saddled Hardy Eastace to win two Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham.

“It’s in my (me) blood, I love it, if I didn’t have so many horses to ride for the flat season, I’d be taking part over jumps but it’s too close to my season,” Hughes said. “Flat racing is my bread and butter, I always wanted to be a flat jockey funny enough, always, for some reason, the speed, the glory of Epsom and all that, but at the same time, I love jump racing.”

Hughes, 40, won his first flat race in 1983 and his first jump race in 1993. He’s won over 2,000 races, including 27 over over hurdles. Winning one at Cheltenham remains painfully in his bucket list.

“I had a good try at it, I was placed a few times, I never got to ride a winner around here. I have one I should have won on, it wasn’t to be. We all have those,” Hughes said, after riding the bumper and helping saddle two for his father during the four-day March festival. “We ran two today, they both finished second, although how great it is they’ve run well, it breaks your heart to get beaten. I was here for Hardy Eastace to win two Champion Hurdles. That was brilliant.”

Riding for the powerful Richard Hannon team, Hughes aims to defend his (flat) title this year.

“It’s a big season ahead, I’ve got some very good flat horses to look forward, all systems go now,” Hughes said. “I always said I don’t want to give up when I’m too old to go training, but at the same time, I still have four or five good years in me. It’s too easy.”

As for Cheltenham, Hughes tried to explain the magic.

“As soon as one race is over, you can’t wait for the next race,” Hughes said. “I don’t think anyone out there knows who’s going to win the next race, unless, it’s Sprinter Sacre. Apart from him, you never really know in this game.”

Yeah, you never know anything. Even if a champion flat jockey will ride over jumps again?

“Yeah,” Hughes said, when asked. “Definitely.”

What would it take?

“I don’t know. A good leper over fences,” Hughes said. “It would have to be at the end of the season, rather than the beginning of the season. But yeah, definitely.”

And that’s why I love the sport – flat or jump.