Back problems sideline veteran trainer

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk

Forty six years after training his first winner, Waikato-based trainer Robbie Hughes is on the verge of retirement.

“It’s time to call it quits,” says the 70-year-old who lives and trains on 50 acres (20 hectares) at Pukekura County near Cambridge.

A deciding factor in his decision is his health.

“I’ve got three crushed vertebrae …... I’m seeing the spinal surgeon later this month.”

Blaming it on “wear and tear” Hughes says it’s got to the stage where an operation is the only option.

“I remember 10-12 years ago driving to the races and having someone else drive because the pain in my legs and back.”

Right now he’s shipping out what horses he has remaining on his property, including two who will go to his nephew and four-time New Zealand Cup winner Todd Mitchell.

“It’s very hard at the moment , the costs of shoes and vets and horse feeds,” says Hughes, “and I feel for some of the young ones coming into the game, it’s very expensive.”

After a stint working for the great Roy Purdon in the late 1960s Hughes went out on his own - “I never had more than 10 horses in work”.

The first horse he won with was was Gold Clue at Auckland in 1974. In all he’s trained 114 winners, from 1446 starts.

“I made more than 114 friends through racing and that’s a lot more important than the winners.”

So who was his best horse?

“There were no champions,” says Hughes though he’s quick to point out he had a soft spot for “Motoring with Robbie”.

He won five races for Hughes and “then he went to Perth and the USA – he won 18 races in all”.

By New York Motoring the horse was not named after the trainer, but a popular radio show at the time. Motoring with Robbie was a programme broadcast weekly for more than 40 years. It featured the host Robbie Robinson offering advice on everything pertaining to cars and mechanical issues.

Red Magic was another good performer for the barn. A seven race winner twice he took out the Te Awamutu Cup (2017 and 2019).

After his surgery Hughes will definitely be getting out of the daily grind of horse training but he won’t be lost to the industry. He will be a regular at local meetings and continue to be involved on the Cambridge committee.

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