Byron "Gail" Hughes spent more than 60 years working with Thoroughbreds and in his free time enjoyed fox hunting with his wife Ruth. The all-horses, all-the-time hardboot died Jan. 18 in Carlisle, Ky. He was 91.
Hughes, who worked for 36 years as farm manager at Dr. and Mrs. Eslie Asbury's Forest Retreat Farm in Nicholas County, Ky., was named Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club Farm Manager of the Year in 1987.
"He was one of the last pure hardboots, even though he wasn't born in Kentucky. He lived here from high school on," said Hughes' son, Byron "Scooter" Hughes, who in 2014, like his dad, earned the KTFMC Farm Manager of the Year honor. "He was just a good horseman who understood how horses should be treated and taken care of."
While at Forest Retreat, the farm bred and sold Hail to Patsy, who went on to win the 1969 Kentucky Oaks. The farm typically had about 30 mares and another 300 would be boarded there. During his more than 30 years at the farm, Forest Retreat, solely or with partners, bred about 45 stakes winners, including grade 1 winner Roo Art. The farm stood Naskra while he was there.
"He was the high point in my stallion career," Hughes said in a May 29, 2004 BloodHorse story. "He was the most fertile horse I ever saw and he bred soundness. That was the beauty of him, and why I predicted he would be a good broodmare sire."
For about 25 years, Ruth Hughes oversaw initial training at the farm and broke five grade 1 winners in Dreamy Mimi, Hostage, Mr Purple, Queens Court Queen, and Rootentootenwooten.
Before Forest Retreat, Gail Hughes worked as an assistant farm manager at John Hay "Jock" Whitney and Joan Whitney Payson's Greentree Farm.
Before working at the farms, Hughes served in the U.S. Army, where he let it be known that he had experience with horses and was assigned to the cavalry regiment. He was sent to France in 1945 as Europe began rebuilding after World War II.
Back in Kentucky after his service, Hughes worked with Dr. Charlie Hagyard, who became a partner in Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary clinic.
"I remember Dr. Hagyard would always give me a piece of gum when he'd come visit, and we'd walk around and visit all the horses," Scooter Hughes said. "My dad worked with a lot of top people."
Hughes is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ruth, Scooter (Traci) Hughes; David (Patti) Hughes, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C.; Andrew W. "Wick" (Karen) Hughes, of Harrodsburg, Ky.; and Sarah Elizabeth (Gerry) Hughes, of Versailles, Ky.
A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. March 11 at Fasig-Tipton Sales in Lexington.
Charitable donations may be made in Gail Hughes memory to Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement farm.