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McCoy leads tributes to racing star Dessie Hughes

By Robert Jones

Ulster's perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy led tributes yesterday after the death of Kildare trainer Dessie Hughes at 71.

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

Hughes, who enjoyed success as a rider and trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in a career spanning more than 50 years, passed away after a battle with illness.

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 wife Eileen, son and three-time champion Flat jockey Richard, and daughter Sandra.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins called him the "professional's professional". He told At The Races: "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.

Top owner JP McManus summed up the sombre mood. He said: "Dessie was a perfect gentleman, trainer, jockey - he was everything you would want. "

Six of Hughes' winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including Davy Lad in the 1977 Gold Cup, were for trainer Mick O'Toole.

He said: "Dessie was with me a long time and it was a lucky day for me when he came along."

Conor O'Dwyer, who rode Hardy Eustace in both his Champion Hurdle triumphs, said: "We had some brilliant times together, some of the best of my career."

When Hughes drove Monksfield to victory in the 1979 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the partnership withstood the challenge of Sea Pigeon, ridden by Jonjo O'Neill.

O'Neill tweeted: "So sad to hear of passing of Dessie Hughes. We had some great tussles in the past and he was a lovely man."

A minute's silence was held at Cheltenham and Punchestown, with jockeys wearing black armbands as a mark of respect.

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