Thursday 24 October 2019

Tributes flow for 'world-class' Smullen

Pat Smullen celebrates his Epsom Derby win aboard Harzand in 2016. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Pat Smullen celebrates his Epsom Derby win aboard Harzand in 2016. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The outpouring of emotion following Pat Smullen's retirement speaks volumes of the esteem which he is held in by those who know him best.

Having completed an inspirational recovery from pancreatic cancer, the Offaly jockey was advised by doctors to end a riding career which saw him crowned Irish champion Flat jockey on nine occasions.

Smullen - who turns 42 later this month - took an extended break from the saddle to battle the disease and after putting on 14lbs during his 14-month break, it was decided that retirement was the safest option rather than taking any health risks.

"I have had a frank discussion with my doctors and I gave them the full details of the way of life of a jockey, and what I'd have to go through to get back to full fitness," Smullen said.

"To get back to the weight that I need to be, and to compete at the level I want to compete at. They advised me that I should not compromise my immune system in any way. The right thing for me to do is to call it a day. I'm sure everyone will understand that while it's sad and difficult for me, it's not as difficult as I thought it might be because I see the bigger picture. My health comes first now, and I can't compromise that."

It brings the curtain down on a glittering career which saw Smullen claim 12 European Classics, none more important than 2016 Epsom Derby triumph aboard Harzand for long-time boss Dermot Weld, with whom he enjoyed huge success during their 20-year partnership.

Smullen intends to continue his association with Weld and ride out work where possible and the master of Rosewell House was one of many to pay tribute to a "world-class" jockey revered by his many colleagues in the weighing room.

Maestro

Smullen - who rode his first winner aboard Vicosa at Dundalk in 1993 for Offaly trainer Tom Lacy - had many a battle with Aidan O'Brien-trained runners and the Ballydoyle maestro hailed his riding ability, but also his character as a man off the track.

"Pat was second to none both as a jockey and a horseman. As a human being, he has inspired people all over the world especially with the way he has dealt with and spoken about his illness," O'Brien said.

"We like everybody else look forward to reading his articles and hearing his interviews, as his knowledge, experience and wisdom will be an invaluable contribution to everyone."

Former jockey Johnny Murtagh echoed those sentiments having fought out many a finish against Smullen.

"He was one of the toughest competitors I had to ride against. Pat was very consistent, strong in a finish and tactically very aware. It's sad he won't be able to ride again, but he's going to move on to the next chapter of his life," Murtagh said. "He will be a huge asset to racing and whatever he turns his hand to, he'll be a success. He's a gentleman and one of the real nice guys in racing."

His agent Kevin O'Ryan - who Smullen convinced to take up that role - owes him more than most having also set him up with his now wife Angela (sister of Pat's wife Frances Crowley) during their time at Weld's.

"Pat Smullen epitomises the word professionalism - he's got an unbelievable work ethic and determination and he's someone all young jockeys should aspire to," O'Ryan said.

"It really is the end of an era with Pat and Ruby (Walsh) retiring in the last week, but as one chapter closes another one opens for both of them."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland fall short again, 2019 slump and what Andy Farrell must do as head coach

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport