Goodwood specialist Hills remembers his glory days

By Sports Desk July 30, 2023

Few jockeys will ever have as much success at Goodwood as Michael Hills.

The Derby-winning rider knew almost every idiosyncrasy the undulating South Downs track could offer.

Among his many British Group One winners, he secured victories in both the Sussex Stakes and Nassau, though he cherishes the two Goodwood Cups gained by the hugely-popular Further Flight, trained by his father Barry, above all others.

In a 10-year career from October 1988 to October 1998, the magnificent grey ran 70 times and won 24 races – 22 of them partnered by Hills.

“Further Flight used to come at that time of year,” said Hills. “He won two in a row in 1991 and 1992. He was just amazing.

“He used to come from way back and was not the easiest ride. He got there early and then he’d stop. He only just got the two miles. We tried him in the Gold Cup and he didn’t stay.

“The Goodwood Cup was his first Group race win in ’91, after he’d won the Ebor. I have got the pictures and he gets lighter and lighter each year. When I last rode him, he was nearly white.”

Further Flight got better with age, being voted European Champion Older Horse at the Cartier Racing Awards in 1995 and landing the Group Two Jockey Club Cup every season from 1991 to 1995.

“What was remarkable was his durability. After the Ebor, he was right at the top and had to compete at the top all the time,” Hills added.

“He was unbelievable, winning two Lonsdale Cups and the Doncaster Cup as well.

“He was aggressive. He used to pull really hard when he was young, and we got him to settle and that is when he got to stay. He was gelded as a three-year-old and then handicapped. He went up the handicap route and then just got better and better.”

Further Flight was even placed in the 1997 Jockey Club Cup as an 11-year-old and won his last race the following year.

He was retired after his final race in October 1998 and went to live with Hills, his wife Chris and daughter Sam in Newmarket. Not that the jockey’s affection for Further Flight was reciprocated.

“He was a funny character, because when he retired, they gave him to me and I had him at home – he wouldn’t go near me and didn’t like me at all,” said Hills.

“He used to love my daughter and my wife. He would only go to her. He wouldn’t let me catch him.

“I don’t know why. He didn’t like men and Chris will say he was a good judge of character! He was a funny old boy.

“The only time I’d go near him was when he was in his box. In the paddock, he wouldn’t go near me.”

Hills, whose big-race victories included the Derby with Shaamit and King George with Pentire in 1996, retired in 2009 after three decades in the saddle.

He has remained a fixture on racecourses and the 60-year-old imparts his riding knowledge, teaching young jockeys as a British Horseracing Authority coach at the British Racing School in Newmarket.

“I love working with the apprentices,” added Hills. “It’s really great, when they listen to you and you see them doing it on the track, it gives me a good kick.

“Telling them about the draws and the different tracks. Goodwood is so tricky, where the draw is, where the pace is, it is so, so important.

“As soon as those gates open, you can win and lose the race there and then. Goodwood is a very awkward track. They had a few suspensions at Royal Ascot, and I think we will see a few more at Goodwood.”

Longevity and consistency made Further Flight one of the more popular horses in training and Hills could invariably be relied upon more often than not to deliver on the biggest days at the West Sussex track.

“I have some lovely memories of riding there,” he added: “The Sussex Stakes on First Island (1996) was really great, coming back from a mile and a quarter when winning the Prince of Wales’s at Ascot, to a mile. It was a great training performance from Geoff Wragg.

“I think I won two Schweppes Miles with Prince Rupert and Distant Relative, too.

“I was lucky at Goodwood. Dad and Geoff (Wragg) pinged it. There was the Richmond with First Trump and Superstar Leo for William Haggas in the Molecomb, which I won a few times (Hoh Magic 1994, Majestic Missile 2003 and Enticing 2006), and winning the Nassau on Ryafan (1997) was great.

“That was a very, very good filly. I said to John Gosden that day, she was the best filly I’d ever ridden.”

Ryafan had won the Prix Marcel Boussac as a juvenile and then went on to score in the Falmouth and Nassau to be crowned European Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, before heading to the States to take three more top-level contests as a four-year-old, earning her an American Champion Female Turf Horse honour in 1997.

“She went to America and she was unbelievable out there,” added Hills. “She was up there with the best I’ve ridden.

“She never got any further than a mile and a quarter. I remember the one thing John asked me, ‘what do you think on the trip?’. I said in the last 50 yards I was on vapours. I was on the floor, but six (lengths) clear or something.

“I think she was possibly one of the best fillies John ever trained and she never got the credit she deserved over here.

“One of my great Goodwood days was Broadway Flyer, when he won the Gordon Stakes in 1994. That was for my brother John. That was great.

“Then there was First Island in the Sussex Stakes. He was a very good horse, but unfortunately he had to take on Bosra Sham a lot. I won the Hong Kong Cup on him, which was my first big international win. He was a terrific horse.”

Sadly, Further Flight died after suffering a paddock injury to his hind leg in July 2001. Though he won just two races at Nottingham, he is remembered there with a race named after him – the Barry Hills Further Flight Stakes – and will always be the horse Hills will be best associated with.

He was very much part of the family, so much so that they could not bare to part with his memory.

Chris Hills explained: “We had a headstone made for him when he was buried.

“When we sold the farm, we hoped the new owners would keep the grave in good order, but I went there one day and it was all overgrown.

“I was so upset and angry. I said to Michael, ‘I’m going to get his headstone’, so we basically spirited it away. It took a job to get it out of the ground.

“We had a wooden cross made as a replacement with his achievements on, so no-one is going to forget him.”

“He was by far my favourite horse,” Michael Hills added. “To win back-to-back Goodwood Cups and the same five Group races in as many years, no other horse as done that. He was fabulous.”

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