Yet it took him until last year to win his first jockey’s championship, and it took him until yesterday to ride his first British Classic winner. True he had close on 50 Classics across the world, in India, Italy, France and Ireland, but despite riding here since the early 1990s, they had always eluded him.
Back in February Hughes had said he thought that at the age of 40 winning a Classic was more important to him than holding on to his jockeys’ crown. “That will be my objective, to win a Classic. I’ll not be worrying about titles until after Goodwood,” he told The Telegraph. At the time he thought that his best chance lay with Toronado, but in the Derby, not the 2,000 Guineas in which the pair were second on Saturday.
He highlighted Sky Lantern as his other possible duck-breaker, and so it turned out yesterday. “About bloody time,” he said. “I think my wife was more upset than I was [after Toronado]. I remember telling her it was only a horse race and there were more important things. She said, ‘I know it’s only a horse race, but you never seem to win the big ones’. I’ve won plenty of Classics everywhere else and I was pretty sure one day I’d get the horse but it’s a monkey off my back. For the last ten years Aidan O’Brien has been dominating but Richard has been stepping up the quality.”
Sky Lantern’s trainer Richard Hannon wasn’t at Newmarket to see the victory; he had gone to saddle runners at Salisbury, so it was left to his son, Richard Hannon jnr to comment on the filly’s achievement. She had been beaten in her prep race, the Nell Gwyn Stakes a couple of weeks earlier, and Hannon looked back at that when he said, “We knew we were still up against it. But she’s tough and talented and we knew she would need that first run – she lost 12 kilos and even today she’d not properly come in her coat.”
As for Hughes, there may be more Classics to come, but he didn’t seem too perturbed if that didn’t happen. Asked if he had a wish list, the jockey said, “No, I’m happy with what I’ve got, not what I haven’t got.”