ABU DHABI // Richard Hills, one of the longest-serving jockeys in the UAE, will ride his last race in Abu Dhabi tonight.
The veteran Englishman is booked for three races in the final meeting of the season at the capital's racecourse, including in the two featured events, the Group 1 Emirates Championship for the Purebred Arabians and the Group 3 Abu Dhabi Championship for the thoroughbreds, all for his main patron, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.
"He is straight, honest and upright," said Pat Buckley, the racing manager of Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, who has had a long association with the jockey since racing was staged for the first time under the UAE Racing Rules in 1992.
"Richard was one of those people I could rely and ask for his thoughts on improving certain areas and aspects in the formative years of racing in Abu Dhabi.
"He has made his decision to retire and we can only wish him well on his future endeavours.
"And to have an association of more than 15 years with his main patron Sheikh Hamdan is evidence that he has done nothing wrong during his professional career.
Hills, 49, has ridden 501 winners in the UAE, including the 1999 Dubai World Cup triumph on Almutawakel, and last night's success on Sharaayeen at Meydan Racecourse.
He rides the Gillian Duffield-trained Mesbaah in tonight's third race, and Erwan Charpy's Versac Py and Yaseer in the two featured events in the seven-race card.
Mesbaah returns on the back of a good second behind Ibn Battuta Monlau over the course and distance and should provide Hills with a good start on his farewell appearance in Abu Dhabi.
Versac PY, on whom Hills has won the last two races over the course and distance, is attempting to win his biggest prize half-an-hour later.
"He is the best horse in training and goes well over this distance," Charpy said of the five year old.
"Richard has been on board on his last two starts and I wish he would get a fitting farewell ride on him in Abu Dhabi.
"It is a big step up for Versac but I am pretty confident he would run a big race."
Versac PY has won six of his 10 careers starts, of which five have been in Abu Dhabi, and finished only once out of the first two.
"Obviously this is a much better race than the handicaps and conditions events he has been running in but he is improving and stays very well," Hills said.
"He should give a good account of himself and I would love to ride a winner on my last visit to Abu Dhabi."
Topclas leads the field in the Abu Dhabi Championship but history will be against him as no horse has ever defended their crown in the race since it was first run in 1993.
"The conditions are ideal we know that and he ran well in the prep on his penultimate start. He should have a good chance in a strong renewal," Pat Cosgrave, who rides Topclas, said.