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Aiming to prove he has right attitude for a title challenge.

Byline: peter thomas

THERE are certain people in this life who are described routinely as `driven'. Not in the sense that they have a chauffeur, rather that they are pursued unrelentingly by their inner demons to a point where success becomes an insatiable, gnawing hunger and failure an option only as an immediate precursor to death.

`Driven' may regularly go hand in hand with success, but it is not necessarily a compliment. Sometimes it signifies a triumph of will over limited ability. At its most interesting, it combines sublime talent with relentless peaks of achievement and a cracked personality. For many gifted people, its absence is the principal barrier to greatness.

As far as I am aware, nobody has ever described Richard Hughes as driven. `The Window Cleaner' may be as tall and stylish as Lester ever was, but there the similarities end. Whereas Piggott had all the hallmarks of 24-carat drivenness, Hughes's reputation is as one of the lads, the life and soul, the easy talent with the wayward streak. His gift comes as a blessing, not a curse.

Put through the trauma of a near-miss in a light aircraft, as the 29-year-old Dubliner was on the way to Newmarket last week, some would have been talking in terms of taking stock, putting things in perspective, spending more time with their families.

But, while fellow passenger Richard Hannon by all accounts turned "a bit green", Hughes could scarcely conceal his

delight in describing it as "a bit scary", in the same way, presumably, as being caught scrumping might be described

as a bit scary.

It's a great way to go through life, no doubt, but is it the kind of mindset that may someday allow a weighing-room wildman the luxury of a season as champion jockey?

In 2000, Hughes rode a century of winners for the first time in his career. Last season, he had racked up 90 before the inconsiderate John Gosden-trained filly Carmelita rolled on him and snapped his left leg at the Cambridgeshire meeting.

This time around, he is already into the sixties, with the grim six months of his convalescence seemingly acting as a spur rather than a brake.

Predictably, the driven K Fallon is setting the pace with a princely 81 successes, but Hughes, armed with the sharpest tools in Khalid Abdullah's shed, is looking at his most menacing.

He says: "I'd never thought of myself as a title contender before. I'd always said I'd rather be aiming for quality than driving

up and down the country day in and day out. But I've made such a good start to the season that I thought I'd give it a go.

"Kieren has had a good spell for a couple of weeks and pulled clear of me, but I certainly won't be giving up.

"You can safely say that if I'm ten down on him near the end of the year, I won't be turning it in. If I get myself a good run, this could be my year."

THE leg, it seems, will not be the excuse if Hughes's new-found championship ambition bears no fruit. "They had to pin it, eventually, after it wouldn't heal at first, and it was a frustrating time," he recalls. "I wouldn't want to have another fall on it just yet, and they've told me it still needs to strengthen up a bit more - the muscles around it are still a bit weak.

"I'm supposed to be doing my exercises, but they're time-consuming. They want me to be standing on one leg and hopping up and down a lot, so it's not the kind of thing you want anyone to catch you doing - it's a bit embarrassing.

"But, apart from a bit of a limp when I run, it's giving me no trouble now. When I get up on a horse, it's perfect."

Amen to that, many would say. Hughes on horseback is like an angel in the irons, but it's not the ability that's in question, it's the attitude. So, in his first year of marriage, to Lizzie Hannon, daughter of his guv'nor Richard, is our man ready to knuckle down?

He seems almost sure, but not quite: "With the start I've had this year, I guess being married must be lucky for me, and I reckon it might have made me a bit more sensible - but I doubt you'll find anybody who'd agree with that."

Certainly, if tales from the weighing room are any guide, there is still a way to go before Hughes earns the Nobel Prize for being a proper grown-up.

Mind you, in light of the hours of agonising and hand-wringing, from press and public alike, prompted by the recent gaffes

of Messrs Culhane and Smith,

it is refreshing to learn of the more summary justice meted out by the men at the sharp end.

While Hughes may not have thrown away any races of late, unlike his two hapless colleagues, his unwarranted celebrations aboard second-placed Tillerman in last month's Queen Anne at Royal Ascot did not go unnoticed.

He explains: "By the time I got back to the weighing room, Martin Dwyer had the photo-finish print already pinned up on the weighing-room wall, but he got his come-uppance pretty quick when I cut the toes out of his socks.

"The atmosphere in there is a bit like when the teacher goes

out of the classroom for five minutes."

Fortunately for the unfeasibly tall Hughes, his weight, which once would have been a shade of odds-on to turn in to his most fearsome devil, now seems to have been tamed. Swimming kept it from passing 9st 7lb during his idle winter, and a hot bath for an hour every morning helps him get down to

8st 6lb when required.

But still the suggestion is that it is poundage, allied to a healthy mind, which may keep the jockeys' title beyond his grasp.

He says: "I don't really have a problem with my weight - but I have to work a bit harder than most, and having to sweat makes it that bit more difficult to pick up the extra winners you need to win a championship.

"I'll give it a good go, but I'm not going to kill myself - I want to ride for another ten years, not another five.

"Walter Swinburn had to fight the weight for so long that it finally did for him and I don't want that to happen to me."

CAPTION(S):

Richard Hughes: "If I get myself a good run, this could be my year."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 17, 2002
Words:1096
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