RIP Pat Smullen: The Derby Winning Jockey Who Didn’t Stop Smiling Until the End

Ireland Flag FabricIt was with great sadness that the passing of Pat Smullen was revealed on Tuesday.

The nine-time Irish champion jockey had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2019, and he passed away at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin – a year to the day that the legends race which he helped to organise had raised £2.3 million for research and trials into finding a cure for the disease.

Smullen won stacks of majors during his career, including a dual win in the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby aboard Harzand – just two of his finest hours from the best part of 20 years’ worth of success as the stable rider for Dermot Weld.

“It’s extremely sad. He was an exceptional person – the professionals’ professional. His loyalty and integrity shone out,” Weld said when the news of Smullen’s passing was announced.

AP McCoy, the champion jokey who won Smullen’s charity race, was equally emotional.

“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.”

And Johnny Murtagh, a long-time friend who was a colleague of Smullen’s as part of the John Oxx yard, said:

“It’s very sad news and the world of racing really has lost one of the true legends of the game. You can see the esteem he was held in by people across the world in their tributes to him – he’s one of those special people.”

The Quiet Man with the Taste for the Big Time

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When even the president of your country is moved to speak about your accomplishments, you know you have done something right in life.

And the Irish President, Michael Higgins, noted his ‘sadness’ at hearing of Smullen’s death, saying that his ‘remarkable performances at home and abroad brought joy to so many.’


It was his partnership with Harzand that delighted connections and punters in equal measure, as the duo claimed the Derby double in 2016 on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Smullen would also land the Irish Derby aboard Grey Swallow in 2004, and it is perhaps in his homeland where his most enjoyable days in the saddle came – he was also a two-time Irish 1,000 Guineas champion aboard Nightime and Bethrah, achieved an Irish St Leger four-timer on Vinnie Roe and also won the Irish Oaks with Covert Love.

But Smullen’s day would come more than one on British soil, and it was his partnership with Weld that yielded his finest results – in the end, he would notch 12 winners in European classic races. As well as the Derby came victories in the Ascot Gold Cup, the 2,000 Guineas and the Champions Stakes in a glittering career that spanned 26 years and featured nearly 2,000 winners in Ireland and Britain.

He may be gone, but Pat Smullen’s legacy as a champion jockey who never took life too seriously will live on….