Pat Smullen, the nine-time champion Flat jockey in Ireland, passed away at the age of 43, following a long illness. The Offaly native, first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2018, gave everything in his bid to overcome the illness but, after tackling it with all the positivity and professionalism he brought to his racing career, he lost the battle on Tuesday evening in St Vincent’s Hospital.
A brilliant horsemen and unassuming gentleman, he graced every track in Ireland and distinguished himself with performances of quality which matched his class out of the saddle.
His ability earned him all those titles in Ireland and a total of 12 classics in Europe. Associated with the yard of Dermot Weld for most of his career, the partnership enjoyed tremendous success over two decades, the Epsom Derby victory of Harzand, who completed the English-Irish Derby double at the Curragh, undoubtedly one of the highlights.
For Irish society, the Galway Races have always been a highpoint in the calendar, and for those who liked a flutter, Smullen and Weld were the go-to men. One of the trickier tracks in Ireland to ride, Smullen mastered it early and for those who sided with him in the battle against the bookies, he was a joy to behold as he booted home winner after winner.
Such was his ability and consistency, for rival jockeys and trainers he must have been a nightmare to compete against, but for punters he was a dream. Seldom, if ever, was he in the wrong position in a race, and his ability to overcome a bad draw was unrivalled. And yet, for all that he was their nemesis for 20 great years, you wouldn’t find a rival jockey or connection to say a single bad word about him.
His remarkable positivity and selflessness in the fight against cancer was the true mark of the man, and that should be as much his legacy as all he achieved on the track.
While fighting his own fight, Smullen chose to focus on helping others, and the Charity Race he held at the Curragh in September of last year raised €2.5 million for Cancer Trials Ireland. The figure was a measure of the regard in which he was held throughout the sport.
Smullen was always a true gent to deal with, a tremendous talent in the saddle, but more than that a great family man and an inspiration for anyone facing real adversity in their lives. For all his success, his feet never left the ground, and his dignity remained throughout his illness.
He was a loss to the industry the day he was forced to relinquish his career as a rider, but his passing leaves an indelible mark on the sport. All our thoughts must go to his wife, Frances Crowley, and to his children and extended family.
More than just a sportsman, Pat was everything a great human being should be, and this is truly a sad time for Irish racing.