HAWK HIGH’S late swoop provided Yorkshire jockey Brian Hughes with a landmark victory at the Cheltenham Festival – and a first success for trainer Tim Easterby since Barton prevailed 15 years ago.
However, the Yorkshire horse’s dramatic win in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle was overshadowed by a pile-up at the penultimate obstacle which claimed the life of Akdam and saw top Irish jockey Bryan Cooper suffer a badly broken leg in two places – the many high-profile rides he now misses include Last Instalment in tomorrow’s Gold Cup.
Like Jamie Moore, who partnered his father Gary’s Sire De Grugy to a famous win in the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase, this was a first Festival win for Hughes who was recording his 73rd victory of the season – a new career-best.
It also came 24 hours after he was denied victory on Malcolm Jefferson’s Attaglance following interference with the winner Present View.
“In some ways it makes up for yesterday and in some ways it doesn’t as I should really be on two winners now,” said Hughes, who lives near Thirsk.
“It was disappointing to miss out yesterday. It’s a hard place to ride and a hard place to get a good start.”
Even though Hughes appeared slightly surprised as he returned to the winner’s enclosure on the 33-1 shot, Easterby appreciated the win’s significance. “I’m delighted – this is the best place in the world,” said the Great Habton trainer whose father Peter trained a record-equalling five Champion Hurdle winners. “We always thought he was a decent horse. He was bred by his owner and as soon as we got him as a two-year-old, I had jumping in mind for him.”
Hawk High, seventh in the Melrose Stakes at York’s Ebor Festival, was an 11th Cheltenham win for leading owner Trevor Hemmings who was full of praise for Hughes, whose tactics on Attaglance were criticised in some quarters. Hemmings said: “The jockey suited the horse. We were delighted to get Brian Hughes, who rode him very well.”
Racing: Pages 20-21.