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Hughes definition of true gentleman

The world of horseracing woke up a poorer community on Sunday morning when it emerged that Dessie Hughes had lost his long battle with a cruel illness.

To be quite honest, it is hard to add to the many memories and tributes provided by those in the sport who would have known Dessie much better than I did, but it was the manner of the man that made you simply admire him from afar.

All day Sunday the eulogies poured in and the most common word among them all was "gentleman" and it was impossible to describe Dessie Hughes truthfully without using that word.

Dessie was fittingly described as "the professionals' professional" by Willie Mullins and it was his attention to detail that helped him be so successful in a sport that he found rather than was brought up in.

Never did you get the impression it was a bad time to approach Dessie Hughes and more helpful he couldn't be.

As a budding young journalist cutting my teeth with the Kildare Nationalist, Dessie was one of my first interviews. On a cold winter night, his Curragh yard was quiet and abandoned apart from the equine residents and their trainer, who was in the tack room preparing for the following day. Extremely welcoming, we first went to the kitchen to watch his son, Richard, ride on the all-weather before moving to his office where his honest, insightful and forthright views left a lasting impression.

People involved in this great sport generally have a common dream to one day be successful at the Cheltenham Festival and Hughes was no different only that he is among an elite group of people that managed to be hugely successful on multiple occasions as both a jockey and a trainer.

Davy Lad and Monksfield will always stick in the memory with people of a certain generation and those younger were reared on stories involving those triumphs.

Those older than me would recall how the presence of Hughes teaming up with Mick O'Toole at the Cheltenham Festival would strike fear into even the bravest of bookmaker as the duo rarely left it behind them.

As a trainer, people will always think of Hardy Eustace when mentioning Dessie Hughes, a horse he guided to seven Cheltenham Festivals and won at three of them.

Our Conor's blitzing of the Triumph Hurdle field last year would turn out to be the last time that Dessie Hughes would grace the hallowed winners' enclosure at Prestbury Park with Our Conor's fatal fall in this year's Champion Hurdle proving to be a rare low in what was Dessie's most successful ever campaign last season.

How he dealt with the highs and the lows that this game inevitably throws at you never seemed to change him.

His wife, Eileen, was forever by his side, his daughter, Sandra, has been a major part of the operation in recent years and ensured in the trying months of late that it has continued flawlessly, while the three champion jockey titles won by son Richard, as well as the many big races around the world, clearly filled Dessie with immense pride.

The history books will always show just how good a jockey and a trainer Dessie Hughes was, but the amount of times 'gentleman' has been used since he lost his brave battle over the weekend says so much more.

Hughes housed the best of owners and the glowing tributes of his staff, past and present, who affectionately knew him as 'Boss', shows the respect he had. The gentleman, the gentle man, will certainly be missed.


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