I think there was a day when, as a youth, I asked my horse racing fan of a father why he so worshipped Lester Piggott. I could blame my tender years but, frankly, I was stupid.
It was probably that time when I was warming up to be a difficult teenager who set out to disagree with anything Dad said. He loved Piggott so I had to prefer Joe Mercer or, later, Willie Carson. Of course I could see how good Lester was. But I was a rebel without a cause.
I’ve been reminded of those dumb days when I have seen punters say they won’t miss Richard Hughes. They have accused him of being a cheat, of throwing races. Or, they’ve alleged he’s useless. Let me go into teenager mode… Yeah, right!
At the end of 2012, Hughesie invited me into his home for a long on camera interview. He told me plenty. Not least how jockeys react when a ride doesn’t turn out as hoped. He said to me: “We do know when we get one wrong.”
In the Racing Post on Saturday he said this: “Punters have slagged me off sometimes, but that never bothered me. I know better than anyone I have been a Marmite jockey. People love or hate the way I ride. The only thing that ever hurt was if people said I didn’t try.”
So there you have it. Congratulations Twitterati. You managed to hurt the feelings of one of the best professionals to ever ride a racehorse. So, I ask you, precisely what have you achieved in your working life?
Racing missed Piggott when he retired. Likewise Pat Eddery, Joe Mercer, Willie Carson and a few others. Punters missed them also. That’s because it’s rare to see great sportsmen in action. The average and run of the mill will always outnumber the special ones, whatever the sport.
We want our sportsmen and women to excite us. To force our posteriors to part company with the sofa. Hughes producing Toronado or Canford Cliffs from the back of the field to win, that’s what excites.
Richard will be too busy training to miss being a jockey. But, whether you realise it now or not, we punters will miss him. As will those who don’t bet, but who spend a race watching the in the saddle action of a jockey. Those who appreciate what it takes to be a first among equals.
Hughes modelled his technique on his hero, the incomparable Piggott. A bit like life as a punter and tipster, when it comes off people say you are a God and can walk on water. And when you have a bad day or week, you’re useless. The truth is that neither is true.
Richard Hughes has been embarrassed by all the attention surrounding his retirement after decades in the saddle. I understand why he wanted it all to be over with. And now it is.
He wakes up on Sunday morning no longer a jockey. He can spend more time with his lovely, ever supportive family. And he can, at last, eat a hearty breakfast. How good must that feel after decades of watching your weight?
I fancy we punters, even those who vent their spleen in his direction, will miss him.
They’ll turn their ire on someone else, of course. That is the world in which we now live. A world in which social media allows anyone to claim they are an expert on something they have never done. A place where keyboard warriors think what they have to say is important. The harsh truth is, few of us are experts on anything and there’s no reason why thousands of people should hang on every word we type on Twitter.
I shall miss seeing Hughesie in action much more than he’ll miss sitting in motorway traffic. More than he’ll miss riding horses that will never win a race, regardless of who is in the saddle.
Thankfully, I don’t have a petulant son asking me why I got excited watching Richard Hughes deliver one from the rear of the field, winning from seemingly impossible positions. If I had I’d simply tell him the following…
Appreciate greatness while you can. Unlike racing itself, it’s not something you see every day of the week.
Don’t take my word for it. Read below what Lester Piggott has to say about Richard Hughes. One great reflecting on the career of another.
“Having been a tall jockey myself I know only too well the challenges that Richard Hughes will have faced during his career. Despite being as close to six foot as any Flat jockey would want to be, he has had an outstanding career. His style is elegant, his determination is steely and he is always so patient as a rider. It was a pleasure to watch him all these years.”