Belfast Telegraph

Racing great Dessie Hughes dies

Tributes have been paid to Irish horse racing great Dessie Hughes, who has died aged 71.

The jockey-turned-trainer, who enjoyed success on both fronts with the Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdle in 1979 and again in 2004 and 2005, had been battling illness.

Hughes trained at Osborne Lodge on the Curragh in Co Kildare.

He is survived by his wife Eileen, son and three-time champion flat jockey Richard and daughter Sandra.

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, tweeted: "RIP Dessie Hughes. A great trainer, great jockey and an absolute gentleman. Sympathies to Eileen, Richard and Sandra."

A minute's silence is being held before the first race at Cheltenham today and jockeys will wear black armbands as a mark of respect.

Hughes enjoyed huge success not only in the training ranks but also as a jockey, 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.

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.

"We had some brilliant times together, some of the best times of my career. No-one ever had a bad word to say about Dessie, and Dessie never had a bad word to say about anyone.

"He'd had some hard times, but he'd come through and seemed to be enjoying the best of his career. It's a sad day for everyone and for racing."

Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for leading owners Gigginstown House Stud, which had horses with Hughes, said: "He was a fantastic trainer and a lovely man. He was a true gent.

"He will be sorely and deeply missed by all in racing.

"Thunder Of Roses will not run at Punchestown today as a mark of respect to the man."

As well as son Richard, a number of other leading jockeys have credited much of their success to apprenticeships with Hughes, including Tom Morgan, Charlie Swan and Daryl Jacob.

The most recent off the production line, Bryan Cooper, tweeted: "He was one of the greatest trainers that we've ever seen and by far the best mentor and friend anyone could ever ask for."

Among others to send messages on social media was trainer Johnjo O'Neill, who said: "So sad to hear of passing of Dessie Hughes. We had some great tussles in the past and he was a lovely man."

Other tributes flooded in including from perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy who was also upset at hearing the news.

He tweeted: "Very sad to hear the passing of Dessie Hughes, great jockey & trainer and a very proud dad, my thoughts are with Eileen, Sandra & Richard RIP."

Ruby Walsh, another of Ireland's best ever jump jockeys, described Hughes as an "absolute gentleman".

"Dessie Hughes was an absolute gentleman and I suppose he was one of the last old school Irish jockeys come trainers," Walsh told Racing UK.

"He was a very good trainer obviously with horses like Hardy Eustace and many great horses, but he was an absolute gentleman and a brilliant family man.

"All our thoughts are with Eileen, Richard, Sandra and all the rest of the family.

"Dessie Hughes will be a sad loss to everybody.

"He was a hugely popular guy. He will be at the foremost of everyone's thoughts. It's very sad."

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