In the realm of Australian horse racing, few lower profile names evoke the same sense of respect and admiration as Tommy Hughes Sr, who passed away last week. With a career spanning over five decades, the Flemington-based Hughes established himself as a legendary figure in the industry, particularly among those whose connections to the racing game go back many decades. His innate talent, relentless work ethic, and remarkable horsemanship earned him numerous accolades and a place in the annals of Australian racing history.
Tommy Hughes Sr. was armed with an intimate knowledge of the sport, a keen eye for talent, and an unrivaled work ethic, and he quickly gained recognition for his ability to bring out the best in his equine charges. Hughes’ training prowess was evident in his string of notable successes, including multiple Group 1 victories.
Hughes always said his greatest win was the 1975 Sydney Cup with Gay Master, but that the best horse he ever trained was Grand Cidium, who took out the 1973 Caulfield Guineas.
“He raced nine times for six wins. That says it all,” said Hughes, always a man of few words.
Every Australian trainer wants to win the Melbourne Cup above all, and Hughes came desperately close in 1979 with Salamander. Salamander and Hyperno engaged in a two horse war down the Flemington straight to fight out the finish of our greatest race, but it was the Bart Cummings-trained galloper who prevailed.
Like many trainers of his time, if Hughes was renowned for anything, it was his ability to pull off a plunge on one of his horses. Many a trainer would fund their career by relying on getting one over the bookies, rather than prizemoney, which was nowhere near the scale that we see today.
Beyond his personal accomplishments, Tommy Hughes Sr’s enduring legacy lies in the impact he made on the Australian horse racing industry. His training methods, rooted in a deep understanding of equine psychology and a commitment to horsemanship, set a new standard for excellence.
Other notable horses who shone under his handling were Heroic Storm, Rajah Sahib, Salamander, Love Bandit, Umatilla, and Delago Brom. Grey Song was his last really good horse, placing in two Caulfield Cups behind Mummify and Elvstroem, and running in three Melbourne Cups including the first two wins of Makybe Diva in 2003 and 2004.
While today we see the bigger operations like Ciaron Maher & David Eustace and Chris Waller basing horses in different states, Hughes was never afraid to take teams of horses around the country. He won a race in every state in 1974-75, and had the brave and honest Knee High win races in Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and WA.
Hughes’ influence extended beyond the racecourse, as he became known for his mentorship and support of young talents in the racing world. Many successful jockeys and trainers credit Hughes as a guiding force in their careers, recognizing his ability to instill discipline, knowledge, and a strong work ethic in those he mentored.
Although retired in 2004, Tommy Hughes Sr will be remembered for unwavering passion, exceptional horsemanship, and mentoring spirit, all of which left an indelible mark on the industry. Through his notable successes and his commitment to nurturing the next generation of racing professionals, Hughes shaped the landscape of Australian horse racing. His legacy endures.