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Family Steeped In Fine Tradition

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday October 3, 1997

Craig Young

The landed gentry looked on in silence. The saddle weaved through the huge crowd.

Bouncing off punters in the outer. Dipping and diving as it headed for the inner sanctum.

What could it be? Saddles don't take themselves for a walk. On closer inspection it did have a companion.

Who was it? The saddle was bigger then the boy.

No doubt these scenes took place 100 years ago today at Royal Randwick.

Epsom Handicap day in 1897 was quite a day. It was also Derby day.

The Herald marked the occasions with: "Lovers of the national sport are invited to foregather on the metropolitan heath to-day to assist at the opening of the A. J. C. Spring Meeting, and the bill of fare to be discussed during the afternoon is well worthy of the occasion."

While the Governor-General entertained a party in the committee room, a whisp of a kid battled the crowd outside.

Jim McHugh lumped that saddle into the jockeys' room. At the age of 11 years and four months, McHugh would have his second race ride in the Epsom Handicap that very afternoon.

Weighing in at four stone four (27kg as we know it), McHugh packed a further 31 pounds (14kg) of lead into that saddle and weighed out for the mount on Robin Hood.

Post-mortems of the Epsom recorded that from a "splendid start" Robin Hood was the first to jump. Settling, Robin Hood led by a half-length. At the six furlong pole, young McHugh had a two-length advantage. Three in front at the half-mile. A length on straightening. At the furlong, Robin Hood was again two in front. Hard to the line Robin Hood raced three lengths clear.

And McHugh raced into racing folklore. The youngest jockey to ever win an Epsom. It will never be broken.

Today at Randwick Bill McHugh, son of Jim and a former leading bookmaker, will present the winning rider of the Epsom with a whip.

The McHugh family is steeped in racing tradition. Jim as a jockey. Bill as a bagman. Bill sired Bruce McHugh, who as a bookmaker duelled with Kerry Packer in the betting rings of Sydney in the autumn of 1987.

Packer gambled millions and not long after that carnival Bruce McHugh retired from bookmaking, but it wasn't long before son David stepped in, albeit for a short period.

Where's that saddle?

© 1997 Sydney Morning Herald

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