Pat Smullen - a racing great whose legacy will endure both on and off the track
In a career that spanned 25 years, Pat Smullen left an indelible imprint on the fabric of the Irish racing scene.
He was champion jockey on nine occasions, winning his first title in 2000 having previously won the apprentice championship in 1995 and 1996.
Smullen's association with Dermot Weld will be remembered as one of the most powerful combinations in Irish racing history. Weld had a crucial impact on his career, along with Mick Kinane, to whom he acted as understudy in his early days at Weld's Rosewell House stables.
In adopting the same thoughtful and uncomplicated approach to race-riding that Weld had previously instilled in Kinane, Smullen played the percentage game, keeping the error-count low and maintaining a high level of consistency based on excellent judgement of pace, an acute tactical brain and the ability to retain composure under pressure.
Weld and Smullen teamed up for a host of major domestic and international wins over a 20-year period, culminating with the rider's career highlights on the Aga Khan-owned Harzand in the Derby and the Irish Derby in 2016.
They also won the Irish Derby with Grey Swallow in 2004, as well as capturing the Irish 1,000 Guineas twice, with Nightime in 2006 and Bethrah in 2010, and the Irish St Leger with Vinnie Roe in four consecutive years between 2001 and 2004.
Although the mutual loyalty between the two men was unshakeable, Smullen followed a path beaten by Kinane and Johnny Murtagh to achieve the rare distinction of winning acclaim as a major international jockey while operating from an Irish base.
This was well illustrated in 2015 when his big-race wins included the Irish Oaks and the Prix de l'Opera on Covert Love for Hugo Palmer, Royal Ascot success for Weld on Free Eagle in the Prince of Wales's Stakes and on Snow Sky for Sir Michael Stoute in the Hardwicke Stakes, the Champion Stakes on the Weld-trained Fascinating Rock, as well as the Tattersalls Millions Trophy on Gifted Master for Palmer.
In 2016, the year of Harzand and the last of his nine championships, he enjoyed his best domestic tally of 129 wins.
His last Pattern-level win was on the Weld-trained Tocco D'Amore at Leopardstown in November 2017. The name of that event, the Finale Stakes, strikes a poignant chord now.
Smullen made his final riding appearance at Dundalk on March 16, 2018, giving Togoville a typically strong ride to land a 6f conditions event for County Monaghan trainer Anthony McCann. Two days later he was reported to be suffering from gallstones when missing the opening turf fixture of the season at Naas. The following week came the shocking news of a cancer diagnosis.
Trajectory of a champion
Born on May 22, 1977, Smullen was a native of Rhode, County Offaly. He obtained early experience with local trainer Tom Lacy, who provided his first racecourse success on Vicosa in an apprentice handicap at the old Dundalk track in June 1993, and with Joanna Morgan.
Smullen's career began its rapid upward curve in 1995 when he was champion apprentice with 26 wins. In 1996 he retained the title with a 29-winner tally.
A major breakthrough came in 1997 when Tommy Stack allowed him to retain the ride on Tarascon, whom he had ridden on her first three starts, in the Moyglare Stud Stakes. In a tight finish to the Group 1 contest he got the Tirol filly up in the final strides to win by a head.
When Kinane left Weld to become stable jockey at Ballydoyle in 1999, the trainer appointed Smullen in his place. The transition at Rosewell House was virtually seamless. Even at Galway, where Kinane's understated brilliance was an important factor in Weld's legendary dominance, Smullen soon began to show a similar affinity for the specific demands imposed by the track.
When he became champion jockey for the first time in 2000 with 81 wins, Kinane was 15 behind in the runner-up spot. In 2001 Smullen retained the title with the same number of wins, highlighted by a first Group 1 success for Weld when Vinnie Roe was too good for a strong British challenge in the Irish St Leger. Towards the season's end he achieved another landmark when Vinnie Roe won the Prix Royal-Oak, for the rider's first Group 1 win outside Ireland.
It was also in 2001 that he married Frances Crowley, Ireland's first female champion amateur rider and a Classic-winning trainer. They have three children, Hannah, Paddy and Sarah. With Joe Crowley, who sadly died in March, as his father-in-law he was brother-in-law to three other well-known racing personalities, Aidan O'Brien, Kevin O'Ryan and Trevor Horgan.
In 2002, as he and Weld grew as a force, Smullen enjoyed a breakthrough Royal Ascot success on Irresistible Jewel in the Ribblesdale Stakes, and an initial Grade 1 winner in the United States on Dressed To Thrill in the 2002 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.
A mid-September weekend in 2002 was particularly memorable for Weld and Smullen with Vinnie Roe winning a second Irish St Leger, Dressed To Thrill taking the Blandford Stakes, and Refuse To Bend defeating the O'Brien-trained, Kinane-ridden Van Nistelrooy in the National Stakes. After winning a Guineas trial at Leopardstown the following spring, Refuse To Bend provided Smullen with a first British Classic when landing the 2,000 Guineas.
An eight-length winner of the Killavullan Stakes in 2003, Grey Swallow finished third to Bachelor Duke in the Irish 2,000 Guineas the following year before recording a memorable triumph over Epsom victor North Light in the Irish Derby. The highlight of Grey Swallow's four-year-old career was another Curragh Group 1 win, beating the previous season's Arc winner Bago in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.
In 2007, he captured the Prix de l'Abbaye on Benbaun for Mark Wallace. The same year Smullen won for a first time on Famous Name, who, in the sense of prolific winning form, was the outstanding horse of his career, winning 20 stakes races for the rider up to 2012.
The one occasion in 38 starts that he didn't partner Famous Name was in the 2009 Tattersalls Gold Cup when he rode Casual Conquest, on whom he had finished third to New Approach in the 2008 Derby and second to Frozen Time in the 2008 Irish Derby. This time Kinane was on Famous Name, no match for Casual Conquest who won easily under a front-running ride from Smullen.
In 2009 Smullen's ambition to ride a Cheltenham Festival winner was thwarted when Rite Of Passage could finish only third behind Dunguib in the Champion Bumper. However, the following year the son of Giant's Causeway provided one of the rider's career highlights in beating the Ballydoyle-trained Age Of Aquarius in the Ascot Gold Cup.
During this phase of his career Smullen enjoyed multiple Pattern wins on smart Weld-trained fillies including Chinese White, Profound Beauty and Emulous. In the spring of 2010 Bethrah blossomed quickly to give the jockey a 16-1 success in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Major victories in 2012 included the Ribblesdale Stakes on Irresistible Jewel's daughter Princess Highway and the Ayr Gold Cup on Captain Ramius for Kevin Ryan. The 2014 Royal Ascot fixture provided wins in the Jersey Stakes on Mustajeeb for Weld and Anthem Alexander for Edward Lynam in the Queen Mary. In the same year he won the Qipco British Champions Cup on Forgotten Rules.
Smullen won the Irish title four times between 2005 and 2010. His nephew Joseph O'Brien took the honours in 2012 and 2013, before Smullen was back on top with a hat-trick of championships from 2014.
Whatever the occasion, whether a midweek evening meeting at a rural Irish venue, or a big day on the international circuit, Smullen was an exemplary professional who commanded the respect and affection of the Irish racing public.
The news of his illness was greeted with huge shock, all the more so on account of his reputation for self-discipline and for keeping himself in prime physical shape.
Strength of character and underlying fitness helped him to negotiate an initial spell of treatment, and he was determined to return to the saddle. However, by May 2019 he had to bow to medical advice and announce his retirement.
In the months that followed, he threw himself into the organisation of the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland, staged at the Curragh on the second day of Irish Champions Weekend. The occasion was an unimaginable success, raising in excess of €2.5 million, and he took considerable pride in announcing in July that €100,000 had been allocated to St Vincent’s Hospital for a next-generation sequencing machine to enhance diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer.
Sadly, soon afterwards he had to be readmitted to St Vincent's when his condition deteriorated. His legacy there, and so far beyond, is one that will endure in his absence.
Pat Smullen factfile
Full name Patrick Joseph Smullen
Born May 22, 1977
Wife Frances (nee Crowley) former trainer; sister of Annemarie, wife of Aidan O'Brien
Apprenticed to Tom Lacy, Tullamore, County Offaly
First mount Power Source, 9th at Listowel, September 21, 1992
First winner Vicosa, Dundalk, June 11, 1993
First Group winner Token Gesture (1996 CL Weld Park Stakes)
First Group 1 winner Tarascon (1997 Moyglare Stud Stakes)
First winner in Britain Takwin, Doncaster, September 9, 2000
Derby winner Harzand (2016)
Irish Derby winners Grey Swallow (2004), Harzand (2016)
2,000 Guineas winner Refuse To Bend (2003)
Other Classic winners Vinnie Roe (2001, 2002, 2003 & 2004 Irish St Leger, 2001 Prix Royal-Oak), Nightime (2006 Irish 1,000 Guineas), Bethrah (2010 Irish 1,000 Guineas), Covert Love (2015 Irish Oaks)
Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage (2010)
Champion Stakes winner Fascinating Rock (2015)
Other Group 1 winners Refuse To Bend (2002 National Stakes), Grey Swallow (2005 Tattersalls Gold Cup), Benbaun (2007 Prix de l'Abbaye), Casual Conquest (2009 Tattersalls Gold Cup), Chinese White (2010 Pretty Polly Stakes), Emulous (2011 Matron Stakes), Free Eagle (2015 Prince of Wales's Stakes), Covert Love (2015 Prix de l'Opera), Fascinating Rock (2016 Tattersalls Gold Cup)
US Grade 1 winner Dress To Thrill (2002 Matriarch Stakes)
Breeders' Cup winner Muhannak (2008 Marathon, non-Graded)
Most prolific Pattern winner Famous Name (13 Group wins 2008-12, including 2012 Royal Whip)
Other notable winners Dress To Thrill (2002 Matron Stakes, Sun Chariot Stakes), Evolving Tactics (2003 American Derby), Simple Exchange (2004 American Derby), Benbaun (2006 & 2007 Flying Five), Rite Of Passage (2012 British Champions Long Distance Cup), Sapphire (2012 British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes), Forgotten Rules (2014 British Champions Long Distance Cup)
Melbourne Cup runner-up Vinnie Roe (2004)
Prix du Jockey Club runner-up Famous Name (2008)
Placed mount at Cheltenham Festival Rite Of Passage (3rd, 2009 Champion Bumper)
Richest win £876,170 (Harzand, 2016 Derby)
Last winner Togoville, Dundalk, March 16, 2018
Highest-rated mounts (Racing Post Ratings) 126 Grey Swallow (2004 Irish Derby, 2005 Tattersalls Gold Cup), 125 Vinnie Roe, Fascinating Rock, 124 Benbaun, Free Eagle, Harzand, 123 Refuse To Bend, Casual Conquest, Famous Name, 122 Rite Of Passage
Cartier Award winners Vinnie Roe (stayer 2002), Rite Of Passage (stayer 2010)
Main trainer Dermot Weld 1999-2018
Champion apprentice 1995, 1996
Champion jockey 9 times (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Group/Grade 1 wins 25
Royal Ascot wins 8
Calendar-year centuries in Ireland 4
Most wins in a year in Ireland 129 (2016)
Most wins in a year in Britain 10 (2016)
Total wins in Ireland 1,845
Total wins in Britain 47