The horse racing world was rocked on Tuesday evening with the news that multiple Group One-winning jockey Pat Smullen had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away at just 43 years of age.
The top-class Irish pilot had been encouraged by positive news in his battle in 2019 but, having suffered a relapse in his condition, he died in Dublin on Tuesday. His exploits on the track are hard to ignore but off the racecourse Pat was a gentleman and a champion for charity, raising more than €2.5 million for charitable causes.
Here’s look back at the career of one of the finest jockeys in the business and some of his most memorable successes in the saddle.
Born on 22 May 1977 in County Offaly, Ireland, Pat Smullen booted home his first winner in 1993, when steering Tom Lacy’s Vicosa to victory at Dundalk. His talents in the saddle saw him crowned as champion apprentice in both 1995 and 1996.
Smullen’s first Group One success came in 1997, when taking the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh on Tommy Stack’s Tarascon, and that success was the first of many top-level successes for the rider around the globe.
He steered home eleven Classic winners, including four in the Irish St Leger when partnering the legendary stayer Vinnie Roe, as well as an Epsom Derby winner with Dermont Weld’s Harzand, on whom he also won the Irish Derby for owner Aga Khan.
Pat Smullen – Classic Winners
Vinnie Roe – Irish St Leger (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
Refuse To Bend – 2000 Guineas (2003)
Grey Swallow – Irish Derby (2004)
Nightime – Irish 1000 Guineas (2006)
Bethrah – Irish 1000 Guineas (2010)
Covert Love – Irish Oaks (2015)
Pat Smullen enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership both with the Aga Khan and legendary handler Dermot Weld, for whom he became stable jockey in 1999, taking over from Mick Kinane. He was crowned Irish champion jockey on nine occasions. To date only Kinane has more.
His last winner came back where it all began for him, Dundalk, when riding Togoville to victory for trainer Anthony McCann in March 2018 before news of his impending battle with pancreatic cancer broke and his retirement from the saddle.
Throughout his career, Pat Smullen earnt a reputation as a solid head in the big-races, one of the most dependable in the saddle and he rode for a number of top yards where he was in demand on both sides of the Irish Sea when available. The likes of Sir Michael Stoute, John Gosden, Hugo Palmer and Roger Charlton were never slow in calling on Smullen to take the reins in some of the big UK races and Smullen often answered the call with success.
In all, he rode just short of 1900 winners in Ireland and Britain. Smullen’s legacy in the saddle will be as remembered as well as his sizeable impact away from race-riding, through his numerous charity exploits including the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials Ireland at the Curragh, which was staged last year during the Irish Champions Weekend. That race was one by another legend in Sir Anthony McCoy, who took the honours on Quizzical for Shiela Lavery.
Vinnie Roe: The star who put Pat Smullen on the map?
Of the horses which really launched him into the big leagues, arguably Vinnie Roe is the one that did more for Smullen’s career than any other.
The son of Definite Article raced 29 times in his career and the pair were partnered in all but one of them, with Richard Quinn on duty on the other. The pairing amassed 13 wins, including the Irish St Leger in four successive years between 2001 and 2004.
Other notable victories include the Prix Royal-Oak and two victories apiece in both the Saval Beg Stakes and Ballyroad Stakes. Crowned Champion Stayer in Europe in 2002 he also contested three Melbourne Cups where he finished fourth, runner-up and eighth. He was rated as the best stayer in the world on three separate occasions before being retired in 2005, following his final attempt at Australia’s biggest prize.
In his career he finished outside the first four just three times and amassed more than £1million in prize money. At his peak he was rated 120, only 5lbs below Stradivarius today.
As a stallion, Vinnie Roe has produced some notable progeny including classy chasers Vinndication, Bigbadjohn, Barney Dwan and Claret Cloak amongst others.
The initial treatment he received as he battled his illness initially lead to a positive prognosis and he was given a clean bill of health in 2019. Devoting his energies to charitable work and fundraising initiatives, he amassed impressive sums for a number of charities with his legends race proving especially successful in fundraising.
The news of his death came barely 48 hours after the finale of the 2020 Irish Champions Weekend, after he suffered a relapse in his condition in recent months, passing away on Tuesday eveing in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.
Pat Smullen will be remembered as a legend on and off the track; his legacy an inspiration to all. Rest easy Pat.