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Michael Hills

Michael Hills: rode his first winner at Nottingham in 1979

  PICTURE: Mark Cranham  

Michael Hills: time is right to retire from riding

DERBY-WINNING jockey Michael Hills, whose riding career has spanned four decades and yielded a total of 2,085 winners, is set to retire at the end of the turf season.

Hills, 49, whose twin-brother Richard retired at the Dubai World Cup meeting in March, feels the time is now right for him to follow suit.

He said on Monday: "I've been thinking about it since Royal Ascot. It's not a decision I've taken lightly, because once it's made there's no going back. I have had a great career, riding at the top level for many years.

"There's nothing quite like riding winners, especially big winners. It's just you and the horse, and the thrill and the buzz you get from that is something special, and it always will be. But nothing lasts forever and every jockey knows when it is time to move on. For me, that time has now come."

Hills's announcement arrives hot on the heels of a big day at Newmarket last Saturday when, having just missed out on Red Jazz in the Challenge Stakes he won the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes for his trainer/brother Charlie on Just The Judge, who earned quotes of 16-1 for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas.

"She's as good a filly as I've ridden in a long time," he said. "Of course, there is the temptation to stick around for next season, when she'll be even better. But there will always be one good horse coming through and I think in these situations you've just got to be strong and do what you believe is right.

"I have made my decision, but when I'm in the stands on Guineas day next spring I will be hollering for her louder than anyone."

Hills, whose first winner was the Charlie Nelson-trained Sky Thief at Nottingham in August 1979, was champion apprentice in 1983 and has enjoyed a career laced with quality rides at home and abroad.

He has ridden 148 Group winners, 32 at Group 1 level, a mighty haul achieved in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Hong Kong and the UAE.

"I have been lucky enough to be associated with some very good horses," said Hills, who won the 1996 Derby on the William Haggas-trained Shaamit.

"Shaamit was a fantastic horse who broke the track record at Doncaster as a two-year-old," he said

"It was an exceptional piece of training by William to win a Derby with him on his first run that season. He gave his absolute all that day and was very special to me."

So too was Pentire, on whom Hills won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes that same season, having also won the previous year's Irish Champion Stakes.

"He was the best horse I've ever ridden," said Hills, who will ride out this winter for Haggas and John Ferguson.

"He was pure class. He was only a pony, but he had such a high cruising speed and his acceleration for about 100 yards was unbelievable. He came from nowhere to win the Irish Champion and I should have won two King Georges on him, only I came too soon the first year when Lammtarra beat us."

 
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