Pat Smullen: top jockey, great man
Gary McKenzie pays tribute to Pat Smullen
To get to the top of your chosen profession you need to have a steely determination. And to stay there you have to intensify your focus. Pat Smullen had those qualities in abundance.
You don’t win nine jockeys championships otherwise.
Tributes from the likes of Sir Anthony McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Mick Kinane, and Johnny Murtagh and legendary trainers John Oxx and Dermot Weld speak volumes.
But they were not just championing his riding ability. They all spoke of the character of the man.
Smullen was one of those rare people who reached the top while still being a good guy.
He had a long association with Dermot Weld and Harzand gave them both a win in the Derby of 2016. Pat Smullen rode Group One winners in several countries. He was on Dress To Thrill when she won the Matron Stakes, Sun Chariot Stakes and the Matriarch at Hollywood Park in 2002.
From a personal point of view I was very happy with the jockey as he guided Refuse To Bend to classic glory in the 2000 Guineas in 2003.
But when I think of horses ridden by Pat Smullen it is Vinnie Roe who springs to mind (although Smullen was aboard Famous Name for all of his twenty-one wins. Twenty One!)
To quote the great jockey “I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a horse as genuine as Vinnie Roe in my lifetime – he never knew when he was beat and always kept fighting”.
Vinnie Roe won four consecutive Irish St Legers. And for those who think it is an “easy Group One” here is a list of some of the horses who were behind him in those victories.
Millenary was a St Leger winner, Marienbard went on to win an Arc, Bollin Eric was another Leger winner, as was Brian Boru. His stable mate, Media Puzzle, had won the Melbourne Cup the season before being beaten in Vinnie Roe’s fourth Curragh Leger.
The horse was also placed in two Gold Cups (beaten a neck in one) and was close to winning the Melbourne Cup in 2004 when trying to give 5lbs to triple cup winner Makybe Diva.
Pat Smullen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018. But rather than just roll over and accept it he became an advocate for research into a disease that few are untouched by.
He used his celebrity to raise awareness and money of which the highlight was surely “The Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland”. The race was part of the Irish Champions weekend in 2019.
The prize money was a nominal €60 but over €2 million was raised for the charity that weekend. That money will make a huge difference.
Cancer Trials Ireland’s chief executive Eibhlín Mulroe and its Clinical Lead, Professor Ray McDermott, on behalf of the association’s staff said: “People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland will feel the benefit of it for years, if not decades, to come.”
That is some legacy.
Even during his illness, when he could be forgiven for feeling low, Pat Smullen still had a smile and time for his fans and admirers.
Obviously his family and friends will be feeling a massive loss at this time.
But the wider racing community, of which we are all part, will also be in mourning for “one of our own”.