“Never in my whole life had I been so desperate to pee… After peeing for at least 30 seconds, the agony was over. And then I passed out.”
With an explosive prologue that sees Richard Hughes drink a bottle and a half of champagne, take 14 ‘pee pills’, eat ten whole oranges and pass out in the toilets at Royal Ascot, Hughes’s long-awaited autobiography, A Weight Off My Mind, published by Racing Post Books, opens as it continues – a revealing, often shocking and simply engrossing read.
Hughes is one of the sport’s most unlikely superstars. Too tall to be a jockey, too heavy to be a jockey but too talented a horseman to be anything else, he has risen to the top of his profession thanks to a brilliance and flair in the saddle that has made him one of the most admired riders of his generation.
The son of Irish racing legend, Dessie Hughes, Richard describes how he started out – becoming a paid jockey on the pony racing circuit at the age of seven, being self-sufficient from the age of ten and how his talent and ambition led him quickly to England in 1994 and to riding for the best trainers around.
However, Richard’s demons are never too far away and we very quickly learn how he soon turned to the bottle in his desperate battle to control his weight – “Riding was easy, controlling my weight was the hard bit.” He drank champagne as if it was fruit juice, using its dehydrating effect to keep his weight down and help suppress his appetite. Yet soon his behaviour spiralled out of control leading him to a life of excess and addiction. Startlingly honest, he tells of his steady and inevitable descent towards despair and describes the misery that both he and wife Lizzie endured.
“I thought alcoholics drank from bottles concealed inside brown paper bags. It turned out they came in all shapes and sizes. One of them was a 5ft 9in Irishman.”
Yet this is a story with the happiest of endings for with the support of his family and close friends, Hughes traces the road he took to recovery in a brutally self-aware account that will offer hope to all those in the midst of similar personal trauma.
Through the good years and the bad, there are always the horses and Hughes talks in entertaining and illuminating detail about his pony racing ally Chestnut Lady, the great Canford Cliffs and many of the thoroughbreds he has ridden in between. His associations with Richard Hannon, Prince Khalid Abdullah, Sir Michael Stoute, Sir Henry Cecil and the Queen are all brought under the microscope, while his dalliances with jumping, the title fight with Paul Hanagan and the controversial 2011 whip saga have a new light shone on them.
A Weight Off My Mind also provides a revealing insight into racing – how horses are trained at home, what’s it’s like to ride in a race, how decisions are made in a split second and why there is “no sensation in the world that compares to riding as a jockey”. We also travel all over the world with Hughes from the sophistication of European racing to the very different world of Mumbai.
Described in the foreword by Lester Piggott as “a wonderfully readable and remarkably frank account of a great riding career” A Weight Off My Mind is hard-hitting, extraordinarily candid and quite simply, an un-put-down-able read.
Richard Hughes: A Weight Off My Mind My Autobiography is published by Racing Post Books priced £20. It is available from www.racingpost.com/shop and all good bookshops.
LEE MOTTERSHEAD was acclaimed the star of his profession in 2011 when the votes of press colleagues won him the coveted Racing Journalist of the Year award. One of the Racing Post’s senior writers, he has worked for the sport’s bible since 1996 and reported on major races in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, the United States, Hong Kong and India. He also swapped laptop for saddle when riding in a charity race at Cheltenham for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. Having worked with Richard Hughes on his critically acclaimed Racing Post column, Lee has now teamed up with the jockey on his eagerly-awaited autobiography. A Weight Off My Mind is Lee’s second book. He also wrote Persian Punch: The Authorised Tribute in 2004.