Principal Jockeys: Bryan Cooper, Roger Loughran, Ian McCarthy
- Thyestes Handicap Chase (Siegemaster 2011)
- Leopardstown Handicap Chase (Rare Bob 2011, Schindlers Hunt 2009)
- Killiney Novice Chase (Magnanimity 2011)
- Bobbyjo Bar Festival Novice Hurdle (Magnanimity 2010)
- Bobbyjo Chase (Vic Venturi 2010, Black Apalachi 2009)
- Becher Handicap Chase (Vic Venturi 2009, Black Apalachi 2008)
- Thurles Chase (In Compliance 2009)
- Boylesports.com Champion Novice Chase (Rare Bob 2009)
- Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase (Schindlers Hunt 2008)
- Coral Ascot Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2007 + 2006)
- AIG Champion Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2007)
- Irish Arkle (Schindlers Hunt 2007)
- Durkan New Homes Novice Chase (Schindlers Hunt 2006, Central House 2003)
- Tied Cottage Chase (Central House 2006)
- Cheltenham Champion Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2005 + 2004)
- Pertemps Final (Oulart 2005)
- Fortria Chase (Central House 2005)
- Hilly Way Chase (Central House 2005)
- Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase (Central House 2004)
- Irish Cambridgeshire (Due Respect 2004)
- Emo Oil Champion Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2004)
- Irish Grand National (Timbera 2003)
- Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2003)
- Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (Hardy Eustace 2002)
- Goffs Land Rover Bumper (Hardy Eustace 2002)
- Menolly Homes Champion Novice Hurdle (Colonel Braxton 2001)
- Deloitte Novice Hurdle (Colonel Braxton 2001)
- Drinmore Novice Chase (Ballychorus Dream 1988)
- Huzzar Hurdle (William Crump 1986, Miller Hill 1983)
- Galway Plate (Chow Mein 1985)
- Supreme Novice Hurdle (Miller Hill 1982)
- Drogheda Chase (Light The Wad 1982 + 1981)
- Arkle Trophy (Light The Wad 1981)
Dessie Hughes has long been established as one of Ireland’s most consistent and skilled trainers. While he is perhaps best known for his handling of the legendary Hardy Eustace, Hughes’ curriculum vitae is anything but a one-horse book.
In common with most racehorse trainers, Hughes first shot to international prominence while plying his trade as a National Hunt jockey. Hughes gained many famous victories in the saddle, but undoubtedly his most high-profile successes came on the hallowed turf of Prestbury Park at the Cheltenham Festival when he partnered the Mick O’Toole-trained Davy Lad to success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1977. Two years later, Hughes played a starring role in one of the most famous clashes in recent racing history when partnering the diminutive Monksfield to a famous victory over Sea Pigeon in the Champion Hurdle.
Attentions Turn To Training
espite his numerous successes in the saddle, Hughes had always planned to train and having prepared his yard for three years, he took out his training licence in 1980 and he wasted no time in making a significant impact in his new profession. Light The Wad was undoubtedly the star of the early part of his training career, winning the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in 1982 as well as the 1981 and 1982 renewals of the Drogheda Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
Cheltenham Festival Success
Many trainers have to endure agonising waits to get off the mark at the Cheltenham Festival, indeed, some never manage to saddle a winner at National Hunt racings biggest festival, but Hughes did not have to wait long. Just two years after taking out his licence, he saddled Miller Hill to prevail in the Supreme Novice Hurdle. Other notable wins in the 1980’s included Chow Mein in the 1985 Galway Plate, William Crump in the 1986 Huzzar Handicap Hurdle and Ballychorus Dream in the 1988 Drinmore Novice Chase.
From the late 1980’s until well into the 90’s, the Hughes yard went through a poor run of form which was the result of a persistent bug. Hughes has always maintained that this virus was by far the biggest obstacle he has had to overcome in his training career and it took many years for him to remedy what turned out to be a problem with fungus before things returned to normal.
Back In Form
Having successfully seen off the bug, Hughes soon picked up where he had left off in the late 80’s. The useful handicap hurdler/chaser Roundwood won six times in all during his career and while Hemisphere did not break his maiden over hurdles until his 23rd attempt, he found his niche over fences from 1996-8, winning on four occasions. Guest Performance won no less than six races over hurdles from February 1996 to January 1997 before going on to win the 1998 renewal of the Grade 3 Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase at Naas.
Colonel Braxton looked to be an exciting prospect for the Hughes yard when making a winning racecourse debut in a Leopardstown bumper in December 1999 and he did not take long to fulfil that potential. The following season he won all three of his starts over hurdles, most notably the Grade 1 Menolly Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. He was sent chasing in the 2001/2 season, but he only won once, in the Grade 3 Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase at Naas. The following season he twice finished second to Beef Or Salmon in the Grade 1 contests as well as winning the Listed Normans Grove Chase at Fairyhouse. He made an encouraging seasonal reappearance in the 2003 Ericsson Chase but alas, that would prove to be his last race as he soon succumbed to a serious injury.
Shrewd Purchases Yield Handsome Dividends
The 2001 Land Rover Sale at Goffs would leave an indelible mark on the career of Hughes. At that sale Hughes picked up a four-year-old gelding by Archway for IR£21,000 and a four-year-old by Alflora for IR£28,000. When those two horses finished first and second in the 2002 Land Rover Bumper, Hughes was entitled to be pleased with his investments but even in his wildest dreams, he could not have imagined that that they would go on to win a total of 25 races, including nine Grade 1’s between them. Those horses were Hardy Eustace and Central House.
The promise of Central House’s second to Hardy Eustace in the Land Rover Bumper was not long in being fulfilled. Later that year he won a bumper as well as two races over hurdles. While he was placed three times in Grade 2 company later in the season, it wasn’t until he was sent over fences in the 2003/4 season that he really shot to prominence. His win in a Fairyhouse beginners chase was immediately followed by a 25 lengths win in the Grade 1 Denny Gold Medal Novice Chase at Leopardstown. He had his colours lowered by Kicking King in the Irish Arkle on his next start and he subsequently unseated Paul Carberry at the fourth obstacle from home in the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival. From the end of his novice chasing campaign, Central House proved to be a lucrative money-spinner for his connections. During that time he won five Grade 2 contests, one Grade 1 and was placed in seven other Graded chases, accumulating just over €515,000 in prize money prior to being retired in 2009.
Hardy Eustace Takes Centre Stage
Following his win in the Land Rover Bumper at Fairyhouse in 2002, Hardy Eustace did not waste much time in making his mark over obstacles. His novice hurdle season saw him gain a memorable victory over Back In Front in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle before going on to take some notable scalps in the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival under the sorely-missed Kieren Kelly.
That excellent first season over hurdles proved to be just the beginning, as Hardy Eustace proved to be one of the toughest and most consistent hurdlers of recent decades. His love affair with Cheltenham continued unabated, with him winning the 2004 and 2005 renewals of the Champion Hurdle in memorable fashion and the Punchestown equivalent in 2004. Multiple placings in Grade 1 events preceded a return to winning action at the highest level in the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in 2007 when he got the better of his great rival Brave Inca. He remained a consistent place-getter in Grade 1 events, but he again had to wait over 20 months to return to the winner’s enclosure, gaining an unexpected success in the Maplewood Developments Hurdle at Punchestown in November 2008. That proved to be his final win and by the time he retired at the end of the 2009/10 season, he had earned well over €1,000,000 in prize money and secured his position as one of the most loved hurdlers of the modern era.
New Stars Take The Stage
Dessie Hughes’ happy association with the Goffs Land Rover Sale has continued beyond Hardy Eustace and Central House as one of his most recent Grade 1 winners, Schindlers Hunt, was bought for €28,000 at the 2004 renewal of the sale. Having been Grade 1-placed during his novice hurdle career, Schindlers Hunt really began to fulfil his potential since being sent over fences in 2006/7, winning the Grade 1 Durkan New Homes Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and the Grade 1 Baileys Irish Arkle at the same track a month later. Once out of novice company he proved to be a lucrative performer in valuable handicap chases, winning the 2008 renewal of the Dan Moore Handicap Chase and the 2009 renewal of the Leopardstown Handicap Chase before going on to be Grade 1-placed at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals.
Grangeclare Lark was another classy performer for Hughes in recent seasons. While she failed to win in her first four starts in the 2005/6 season, she made a winning seasonal debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse in October 2006 and soon went from strength to strength over hurdles, winning six of her next eight starts in the following 15 months including three Grade 3 event and two Listed races. The last of those wins came at Leopardstown at Christmas and she was considered a leading contender for the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but unfortunately she suffered an injury soon after that most recent win and Hughes retired her to the breeding paddocks.
Despite the setback of losing such a talented mare, the Hughes stable soon gained replacement stars in the shape of a crack team of chasers that included Rare Bob, Black Apalachi, Vic Venturi, Siegemaster and Magnanimity. The first-named performer came to prominence when winning the Grade 1 Boylesports.com Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival in 2009 and has since added the Leopardstown Handicap Chase in 2011. Black Apalachi and Vic Venturi followed remarkably similar paths, with the former winning the Becher Chase over the Aintree Grand National fences and the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse in 2008/9 and the latter matching that feat in 2009/10. Both have taken their chance in the Aintree Grand National on two occasions since those wins, with Black Apalachi finding just Don’t Push It too good in the 2010 renewal of the famous race. Siegemaster made another valuable contribution to the Hughes’ haul by gaining a well-deserved big-race win in the 2011 renewal of the prestigious Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park. Finally, Magnanimity won the Grade 2 Killiney Novice Chase at Leopardstown in 2011 (the same day Rare Bob won the Leopardstown Handicap Chase) and went on to go close in Grade 1 contests at Leopardstown and the Cheltenham Festival later in the season.
With exciting horses such as Magnanimity at his disposal, Dessie Hughes looks sure to remain a serious player in the Irish National Hunt ranks for many years to come.
Updated December 2011.