Pat Smullen, the nine-time Irish Champion jockey who rode Harzand to success for the Aga Khan in the 2016 Derby at Epsom, has died after a long fight against pancreatic cancer. He was 43.
Smullen, who was not only one of the most successful but most popular Flat jockeys in Ireland in recent times, rode his last winner in March 2018 shortly before his diagnosis was made public.
He appeared to have gone into remission last year and was given a clean bill of health but he suffered a relapse earlier this summer and he died in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin on Tuesday.
Once retired, he focused not only on trying to recover but raising awareness for pancreatic cancer and a ‘legends’ race at The Curragh a year ago, contested by all the great jockeys of recent times who were still able, raised €2.5 million for Cancer Trials Ireland. It was won by AP McCoy.
Born in Offaly and married to Aidan O’Brien’s sister-in-law, Frances, with whom he had three children - Hannah, Paddy and Sarah - Smullen spent most of his career with Dermot Weld.
He was champion apprentice in 1995 and 1996 and rode his first Group One winner a year later when he won the Moyglare Stud Stakes on Taracson. Soon after, when Mick Kinane went to Ballydoyle, Smullen took over as first jockey to Dermot and he was still with him when he retired.
The highlight of their time together was Harzand’s victory in the Derby. Returning home afterwards the Irish photographer Pat Healy, with whom he was travelling, suggested they would be lucky to make the flight. “Don’t care,” said Smullen. “I’ll float home.”
Dependable and with a cool head for the big occasion, there were numerous other big race successes. He won the Irish Derby twice, on Grey Swallow in 2004 and Harzand. He won the Ascot Gold Cup on Rite of Passage and four Irish St Legers on Vinnie Roe. He also won Newmarket’s 2,000 Guineas in 2003 on Refuse To Bend.