RUBY Walsh described legendary trainer and former rider Dessie Hughes as an “absolute gentleman” following his death, aged 71.
Hughes enjoyed huge success in both spheres, 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, who had been battling illness, is survived by his wife Eileen, son and three-times champion Flat jockey Richard and daughter Sandra.
Top Irish rider Walsh said: “Dessie Hughes was an absolute gentleman and I suppose he was one of the last old-school Irish jockeys come trainers.
“He was a very good trainer with horses like Hardy Eustace and many great horses, but he was an absolute gentleman and a brilliant family man. All our thoughts are with Eileen, Richard, Sandra and all the rest of the family.
“Dessie Hughes will be a sad loss to everybody. He was a hugely popular guy. He will be at the foremost of everyone’s thoughts. It’s very sad.”
Britain’s perennial champion jockey Tony McCoy tweeted: “Very sad to hear the passing of Dessie Hughes, great jockey & trainer and a very proud dad, my thoughts are with Eileen, Sandra and Richard. RIP.”
Conor O’Dwyer, who rode Hardy Eustace in both his Champion Hurdle triumphs, said: “There’s gentlemen and then there was Dessie Hughes.
“I’ve ridden for many good people during my career, but Dessie really stood out as a proper gentleman.
“We had some brilliant times together, some of the best times of my career. No one ever had a bad word to say about Dessie, and Dessie never had a bad word to say about anyone.
“He’d had some hard times, but he’d come through and seemed to be enjoying the best of his career. It’s a sad day for everyone and for racing.”
Roger Loughran, part of the Hughes team for many years, also joined the tributes. He rode a lot of the stable’s good horses to victory including Schindlers Hunt to two Grade One triumphs, Central House, Black Apalachi and Grangeclare Lark.
Loughran said: “It’s very sad. I rode plenty of top winners in good races for him. One of his best attributes was his attention to detail. It was second to none. He ate and slept racing the whole time.
“He would get the last ounce out of every horse. He would get the best out of them and that’s what made him so outstanding. Every day he’d be out in the yard at seven o’clock in the morning.”
Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for leading owners Gigginstown House Stud, who had horses with Hughes, said: “He was a fantastic trainer and a lovely man. He was a true gent. He will be sorely and deeply missed by all in racing.”
Another of Hughes’s patrons was Barry Connell, who sent him the exciting novice chaser The Tullow Tank at the start of this season and also owned top hurdler Our Conor.
He said: “The first thing to say about Dessie is that he was an absolute gentleman.
“He had a fantastic career in racing. As a jockey he rode the winner of a Gold Cup and a Champion Hurdle.
“As a trainer, he trained the Champion Hurdle winner twice. He was a man who was very loyal to his staff and respected them a lot. He was very much an old-school trainer, who was very hands on and took great pride in his horses and his staff.
“He also took great pride in his family, particularly Richard. It was marvellous he was able to see him be champion jockey. He’ll be sadly missed.”
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, by three-quarters of a length.
O’Neill, now a highly successful trainer at Jackdaws Castle, 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.