It is 24 years since the three-time champion broke his duck at the summer showpiece fixture aboard Jersey Stakes winner Sergeyev, for his long-time boss and father-in-law Richard Hannon. Two days later he doubled up aboard the Mick Channon-trained Piccolo in the King’s Stand.
Wind the clock forward almost three decades, Hughes’ Royal Ascot record is bettered only by Frankie Dettori (60) and Ryan Moore (53) of those still riding – and the jockey who brought his glittering riding career to an end in 2015 has plenty of fond memories.
Hughes said: “To have two winners in 1995 got me going really, and we had some great days in Ascot over the years.
“I never managed to be top jockey there, unfortunately. The winners always seemed to dry up from Thursday onwards!”
As for his most memorable Royal Ascot winner, Hughes has no hesitation in nominating the brilliant Canford Cliffs.
It is 10 years since the Hannon-trained superstar burst on to the scene with a scintillating display in the Coventry Stakes, which left his rider purring in the winner’s enclosure, saying: “I’ve never known a horse pull that hard and win a race. He’s the best I’ve ridden by far. He’s a freak.”
Canford Cliffs went on to complete a Royal Ascot treble with subsequent triumphs in the St James’s Palace Stakes and the Queen Anne, before rounding off his career by chasing home Frankel in a much anticipated ‘Duel on the Downs’ in the 2011 Sussex Stakes.
“Canford Cliffs is the horse that stands out. I’d say his performance in the Coventry was one of the performances of the decade – I called him a freak and that’s what he was,” said Hughes.
“For him to go back there and win again the next two years was fantastic, because it takes some horse to win at Royal Ascot three years in a row. He was definitely the best horse I’ve ever ridden.”
Hughes’ Royal Ascot tally includes two other Queen Anne wins aboard Paco Boy (2009) and Toronado (2014), while he landed a second King’s Stand with Eddie Lynam’s speedball Sole Power (2015).
He also won two renewals of the Coronation Stakes on Indian Ink (2007) and Sky Lantern (2013) – the filly who finally provided Hughes with his first British Classic success in that year’s 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.
Following his retirement from the saddle in 2015, Hughes followed in the footsteps of his late father Dessie by entering the training ranks.
Now in his third full season with a licence, he has saddled close to 200 winners in Britain and France combined – and would dearly love to add a Royal Ascot success to his training CV next week.
“Hopefully we might have a few runners, and Lady Madison is the one who has a real live chance in the Sandringham,” he said.
“It would be great to train a winner there, but these things take time.
“We’ve trained a good few winners and we just want a good horse to come along now, which they will.
“It took me 20 years to become champion jockey, and it took me a long time to win a British Classic – so maybe I’m a slow-burner!”