x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hills is still standing tall

Richard Hills has spent more than 30 years in the saddle, he is not planning to abdicate any time soon.

Richard Hills has almost all the major trophies, including the Dubai World Cup, on his mantlepiece and wants to add those few remaining like the Arc, the Derby and the Melbourne Cup.
Richard Hills has almost all the major trophies, including the Dubai World Cup, on his mantlepiece and wants to add those few remaining like the Arc, the Derby and the Melbourne Cup.

The sport of kings is charitable in the time it allows its jockeys to remain on the throne. Richard Hills has spent more than 30 years in the saddle. He is not planning to abdicate any time soon. Lester Piggott, a figure who was a daddy of flat racing with his nine Derby wins, was a grandfather when he won his final race at the age of 59 in 1994. In comparison to "The Long Fellow", Hills seems like a yearling.

At the age of 46, Hills is as much of a thoroughbred as the purebred Arabians he was mounting around the Abu Dhabi track on Monday night. He seems far from over the hill. He is also far from the hills of England's green and pleasant land, the country where he was first past the post for his maiden success. Time has been kind to Hills. He spends four months of the year racing here. "I still have a real passion for it," said Hills. "I first came out here about 18 years ago. I've been out here full time for the past 16 years.

"I will continue racing as long as I'm fit. As long as your competitive, then you can go on for as long as you are enjoying it. "The standard of racing was not great here when we started out, but every year the facilities have improved." Hills cajoled Border Dawn home for his first winner at Doncaster in 1979, a year when Margaret Thatcher was elected British Prime Minister and the "Winter of Discontent" blighted the United Kingdom. Hills has crossed several borders, racing in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia.

He has been dominant in the UAE, encapsulated by his Dubai World Cup success on Almutawakel 10 years ago. One imagines it would sit nicely on a mantelpiece that includes the Ascot Gold Cup, the St Leger, the 1,000 Guineas and several other Classic winners. There does not seem to be much murk shadowing his general demeanour. Hills likes his golf, but continues to raise his standards as he heads for home in his career.

"The Dubai World Cup is up there with the best of the Group One races," he said. "They are worth a lot of money, and they are hard to win. "It is like riding in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France or the Derby in England. Obviously, winning the World Cup was a great night, but so was winning the six Classics I've won in England. I've been second in the Derby twice, in two Arcs and a Melbourne Cup. Those are three races I wouldn't mind having on my CV before I hang my boots up."

If you keep the weight down and maintain a healthy bank balance, horse racing seems like a rewarding pursuit. Hills appears to have been fitted up for his present role since childhood. Born in the English town of Newmarket, he won the 2,000 Guineas there on Haafhd in 2004. He is the son of the trainer Barry Hills, the younger brother of the trainer John Hills and the twin brother of the jockey Michael Hills.

After the well-travelled Willie Carson retired in 1997, Hills became the first jockey for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Minister of Finance. "We've had some nice little Arabian horses to ride this season," said Hills. "The partnership is going great. I have been riding for him now for a number of years. "He is still contracting me, and we are having winners. We've had a very good year, and a very good winter here in Abu Dhabi."

Hills had a good night in Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club's 13th race meeting of the season on Monday, steering Quaolina to victory in the fifth race. Hills has five mounts over the dirt at Jebel Ali today. He concedes the season is all about peaking at the World Cup at Nad Al Sheba on March 28. "We have to choose what is best. Snaafy will run in either the Godolphin Mile or the World Cup. I think we would have as good as chance as any," he said. "The World Cup is a big race, and everybody knodfws it. The aim is to get a few more Classic winners.

"The next day I start riding in England. I know it is not a bad way to earn a living." Before his flat racing season commences in England, Hills will go flat out on World Cup night. He has always been renowned as a good front-runner. It an asset that must be regarded as helpful amid the silky confines of such a sport. dkane@thenational.ae