Pat Smullen: Nine-time Irish champion jockey dies aged 43

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Pat Smullen
Smullen formed a formidable partnership with Dermot Weld during his career

Nine-time Irish champion jockey Pat Smullen has died at the age of 43.

Smullen announced his retirement from racing in May 2019 after treatment for pancreatic cancer, and won widespread praise for his stoic attitude and humility in the face of illness.

He won the Derby at Epsom in 2016 on Harzand, trained by Dermot Weld.

Smullen also landed the Irish Derby with Grey Swallow in 2004 and Harzand in 2016.

Smullen's death was announced exactly a year after a legends race he organised, won by AP McCoy, helped raise more than 2.5m euros (£2.3m) for pancreatic cancer trials and research.

"It's just horrifically sad. I spent a long time crying last night. That day at the Curragh was hugely special - it is one of the memories that will last forever in my mind," said an emotional McCoy, who was champion jockey 20 times in Britain.

Smullen won the Irish 1,000 Guineas twice (Nightime and Bethrah), the Irish Oaks aboard Covert Love and the Irish St Leger four years running on Vinnie Roe.

As well as Harzand's Epsom triumph, his major wins for Weld in Britain included the 2,000 Guineas on Refuse To Bend, the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot with Rite Of Passage, and the Champion Stakes on Fascinating Rock.

Johnny Murtagh, Joseph O'Brien, Paul Carberry, Charlie Swan, Richard Hughes, Kieren Fallon, AP McCoy and Ted Durcan with Pat Smullen
Jockeys Johnny Murtagh, Joseph O'Brien, Paul Carberry, Charlie Swan, Richard Hughes, Kieren Fallon, AP McCoy and Ted Durcan with Pat Smullen

'The professionals' professional'

Tributes were paid across the racing community,

"It's extremely sad. He was an exceptional person - the professionals' professional. His loyalty and integrity shone out," said Weld, for whom he was stable jockey for 19 years.

Smullen, from Rhode in County Offaly, leaves behind his wife, Frances, and their three children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah.

Horse Racing Ireland said that Smullen, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018, died at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday evening.

His initial treatment had been positive, but he suffered a relapse and was forced to abandon plans to ride in the charity race a year ago.

HRI 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."

A British Horseracing Authority statement said his death was "devastating" news.

"He will forever be remembered as one of the greats - not only at home in Ireland, but here in Britain and across the racing world," it said.

Irish President Michael D Higgins expressed his "deep sadness" and said the jockey's "remarkable performances at home and abroad brought joy to so many".