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Pat Smullen, Irish champion flat jockey nine times during an illustrious career, died last evening at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, aged 43.
The Offaly man, a 12-time European classic winner, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018. Following his initial treatment, he was given a clean bill of health in 2019. He put a huge effort into organising and fundraising Cancer Trials Ireland, including a Longines Irish Champions Weekend legends race that raised over €2.5 million.
Smullen, who began riding out as an apprentice for Tom Lacy, for whom he rode his first winner, Vicosa, at Dundalk in June 1993. His impact on the sport was immediate as he was named champion apprentice in 1995 and 1996.
Following his apprenticeship, he rode for Joanna Morgan, and would later ride for other top handlers such as John Oxx, and Tommy Stack, making his breakthrough at the highest level with the latter when winning the 1997 Moyglare Stud Stakes on Tarascon.
In 1999, Patrick Joseph Smullen became jockey to Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Dermot Weld – succeeding Michael Kinane – and would remain with the Master of Rosewell House for the remainder of his success-laden career in the saddle.
Along with the nine Irish champion flat jockey titles he won, the Rhode native won Derbies in Ireland and England along with four Irish St Legers. The victory of the Aga Khan’s Harzand in the Group 1 Investec Derby at Epsom in 2016 – before completing the Derby double with victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh – was arguably the highlight of Smullen’s career, while the four consecutive wins of Vinnie Roe in the Group 1 Irish St Leger held a special place as Vinnie Roe was the horse that gave Smullen his first Classic in the 2001 Irish St Leger.
Other major Irish wins included the Group 1 Irish Oaks with Covert Love, Group 1 Budweiser Irish Derby on Grey Swallow and the Irish 2000 Guineas victories of Nightime and Bethrah.
In Britain, in partnership with Dermot Weld, P J Smullen won the Group 1 Sagitta Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket on Refuse To Bend, the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup on Rite of Passage, the Group 1 QIPCO Champion Stakes on Fascinating Rock, the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot with Free Eagle, and the Group 2 Peugeot Sun Chariot Stakes on Dress To Thrill. Further afield, he won the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes on Dress To Thrill in the USA.
Pat’s nerve on the biggest days meant he was a ‘go-to’ big race jockey for many trainers and as well as Irish and English Classics, he also won eight times at Royal Ascot.
Pat Smullen’s final winner on the racetrack came at Dundalk in March 2018, when riding Togoville to victory for handler Anthony McCann. In total, Pat rode 1,892 winners in Ireland and Britain, and 25 at the highest level worldwide.
Weighroom colleagues acknowledge that his guidance and presence singlehandedly raised standards in Ireland and while Pat didn’t ride again after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018 and announced his retirement from the saddle in May 2019, he refused to let his diagnosis define him or deter him.
He suffered a relapse of his illness in recent months and his condition is believed to have deteriorated last week. Pat Smullen leaves behind his wife Frances (née Crowley), herself a classic-winning trainer and sister of Aidan O’Brien’s wife Annemarie, and their three children Hannah, Paddy, and Sarah, his mother Mary and brothers Seán, Ger and Brian.
Paying tribute to the late Pat Smullen last night, Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said:
“Pat Smullen was one of Irish racing’s brightest stars, a nine-time champion, but his achievements in the saddle pale in comparison to his qualities out of it. An inspiration to us all, his legacy is large. All our thoughts this evening are with Frances, Hannah, Paddy, and Sarah.”
Among the other numerous tributes paid to Pat, journalist Vincent Hogan tweeted:
“Pat Smullen was that rare breed of a genuine great at what he did, yet utterly decent and unpretentious about that greatness. RIP Pat”, while Castletownroche, Co. Cork-born former British National Hunt champion jockey, and now trainer, Jonjo O’Neill summed Pat Smullen up well when stating:
“He was a great jockey and even better man.”