04/09/2009 12:00AM

U.S. one spot on globe where Hills is a stranger


John Gosden is well known in America as the trainer of the first Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Royal Heroine, and the latest Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Raven's Pass. The jockey he is bringing with him from England to ride Mafaaz in Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, however, is not as well known, despite his worldwide accomplishments.

Richard Hills has been Hamdan al-Maktoum's first-string rider in Britain since 1997, when he took over that role from the legendary Willie Carson. Hills will be sporting Sheikh Hamdan's familiar blue-and-white colors in Saturday's Blue Grass when Kentucky Derby Challenge winner Mafaaz tries to erase any doubts about his Derby qualifications.

Hills, 46, was born at the center of the British racing world in Newmarket and into of one of England's leading racing families, entering the world just 15 minutes after his twin brother Michael, who, like Richard, is one of Britain's most sought-after riders. They are the sons of Barry Hills, a top British trainer since he took out his license in 1969, and whose biggest winner was Rheingold in the 1973 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. At Pontefract on Tuesday, Barry Hills recorded his 3,000th British victory with Chapter and Verse. Keeping it in the family, the winner was ridden by his son Michael with Richard himself not too far behind in third on Shaaridh.

Richard Hills is also the younger brother of John, who trains not far from Barry Hills's Lambourn yard in Upper Lambourn. And he is the older brother of Charles, father Barry's assistant trainer, as well as the older brother of George, who works for Walmac International in Lexington, Ky. Oh, yes. Richard Hills is also the father of Patrick Hills, a young man just embarking on his riding career in England.

With a pedigree like that of Richard Hills's, it is little wonder that one of the world's leading owners should employ him as his number one rider. The job as Hamdan al -Maktoum's first-call jockey came after a lot of hard work, however. Hills has been riding annually in Dubai since Nad Al Sheba opened in 1992. He was the champion rider in the UAE during the 1994-95 season with 51 winners and has ridden 446 winners there altogether, more than any other jockey. In 1999, he rode a big-race double for Sheikh Hamdan when guiding Almutawakel to victory in the Dubai World Cup about a half-hour after he had won the Dubai Duty Free aboard Altibr.

But Hills spends the months of April to November in England, where he has ridden 1,683 winners since 1979. Uncannily, that mark is almost identical to that of his identical twin Michael, who has 1,665 winners in Britain during the same period.

Richard Hills's big-race triumphs include five British classics, among them Haafhd, trained by his father for Sheikh Hamdan to win the 2000 Guineas in 2004. Hills also engineered one of the biggest upsets ever seen at Ascot when in 1994 he rode the 66-1 Maroof to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over subsequent Breeders' Cup Mile winner Barathea.

Hills's big North American moment came in 2001 when he rode Mutamam to win the Canadian International. He has ridden just twice previously in the United States, both times on Mutamam when fourth in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs and 11th in the same race a year later at Belmont Park.

An American classic triumph aboard Mafaaz in the Kentucky Derby would fit well on Hills's resume, but in order to qualify for a chance at that honor on the terms demanded by both Gosden and Sheikh Hamdan, Hills must first get the job done in the Blue Grass Stakes. Rest assured, every member of the Hills clan will be cheering him on.