Date of Birth: May 22, 1977
Died: September 15, 2020
County of origin: Offaly
First winner: Vicosa (Tom Lacy) Dundalk, June 11th, 1993
Final winner: Togoville (Anthony McCann) Dundalk, March 16, 2018
Significant horses (Selected): Harzand, Vinnie Roe, Grey Swallow,
Refuse To Bend, Rite Of Passage, Dress To Thrill, Emulous, Free Eagle, Benbaun,
Covert Love, Fascinating Rock, Muhannak, Famous Name, Evolving Tactics, Simple Exchange, Sapphire, Forgotten Rules, Nightime, Bethrah.
Did you know?
From Rhode, County Offaly, Pat Smullen was one of the finest Flat jockeys of recent generations. He was champion jockey in Ireland on nine occasions, enjoying no shortage of success as stable jockey to Dermot Weld. He announced his retirement from the saddle on Tuesday, May 7, 2019 on medical advice, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of the previous year.
Pat passed away on Tuesday, September 15, 2020, aged 43. Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland, said: “Today is the saddest of days as Irish racing comes to terms with the loss of one of our brightest stars. Pat Smullen was a nine-times champion jockey, but his achievements in the saddle pale in comparison to his qualities out of it. All our thoughts are with Pat’s wife Frances, children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, his mum Mary, brothers Ger, Sean and Brian, his close friends and colleagues in the weighroom, trainer Dermot Weld and all the staff at Rosewell House.
“Pat was an inspiration for the selfless way that he faced up to the most awful of diagnoses and his fundraising efforts through Cancer Trials Ireland will benefit many people in the future, The Pat Smullen Charity Raceday will go down in the annals of Irish racing as one of the best days ever at the Curragh. For Pat to be taken from us at such a young age is hard to comprehend. His memory will live long wherever horse racing is discussed. May he rest in peace.”
Pat's early career was highlighted by his success in the apprentice championship in 1995 and again in 1996. He rode his first Group 1 winner on the Tommy Stack-trained Tarascon in the Moyglare Stud Stakes the following year. Pat was appointed as stable jockey to Dermot Weld in 1999 and was crowned champion jockey for the first time in 2000. No stranger to big race success in the interim, Smullen landed his biggest winner when Harzand, trained by Weld, won the Epsom Derby in 2016. The same horse gave Smullen his second success in the Irish Derby at the Curragh the same month.
Smullen was champion jockey in Ireland on nine occasions, in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007,
2008, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016. He rode his first Classic winner when Vinnie Roe won the Irish St Leger in 2001 and the partnership went on to win the race for the next three years. He rode his first English Classic winner on the Weld-trained Refuse To Bend in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas in 2003. The following year Pat won the Irish Derby for the first time on the Weld-trained Grey Swallow.
He won the Irish 1,000 Guineas on two occasions with Weld's Nightime (2006) and Bethrah (2010). Smullen enjoyed further Irish Classic success when winning the Oaks on Covert Love, trained by Hugo Palmer, in 2015. Smullen rode big race winners on the likes of Rite Of
Passage, Dress To
Thrill, Emulous, Free Eagle and Benbaun. He rode eight winners at Royal Ascot.
Pat didn't ride again after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018. He announced his retirement in May of the following year, saying: "I don’t want to make a huge deal of it but it’s been a tough year and it has taken its toll on my body.
"I had two surgeries and when I recovered from that I had to then face another round of chemotherapy treatment. It was tough going but it has all been worthwhile and thankfully it has gone very well. Whatever has gone in the past in my career, and I like to think I achieved a little bit, this was the biggest achievement of all, getting through this, and I definitely now see life from a different perspective. I can never be thankful enough to the medical people who have given me a second chance at life.
"I’ve been very fortunate through my career to meet some great people and to ride some very good horses. I have a lot of cherished memories of a great career, and I’m very thankful for that. Now it’s the second chapter of my life. I think everyone has gathered by now that horses are everything in my life. I know nothing else and I’m determined that I’ll still work within the industry and, hopefully, I can be of some benefit."
Pat immediately set about fundraising for pancreatic cancer trials and awareness of pancreatic cancer research and his efforts saw a sum in excess of €2.6m raised within a matter of months. He was at the centre of a drive by the Irish horse racing and breeding industry over Longines Irish Champions Weekend in September 2019 which culminated in the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland (cancertrials.ie) at the Curragh.
A weekend of charity events included a charity dinner, an on-line auction in which items were donated by the racing and breeding community and specially-designed souvenir cups were on sale at both Leopardstown and the Curragh.
Although he had planned to do so, Pat was unable to ride in the Champions Race which saw Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Kieran Fallon, Ted Durcan, Charlie Swan, Joseph O'Brien, Richard Hughes, Johnny Murtagh and Paul Carberry return to the saddle with Des Scahill providing commentary. McCoy led the field of nine home on Quizical for Smullen’s good friends, trainer Sheila Lavery and her brother John.
Look back at the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland and a number of post-race interviews here:
Pat passed away in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, a year to the day after his Cancer Trials Race. At his funeral in his home town of Rhode, County Offaly, his wife Frances told those gathered in St Peter's Church and many hundreds looking in on live online broadcasts, "Pat's death will come as a big blow to many cancer sufferers in Ireland. I have a message to you from him: keep going, don't lose heart; please don't let this knock you back."
Cancer Trials Ireland published an open letter to Pat's family saying:
"It is with a very heavy heart that, on behalf of the staff and members of Cancer Trials Ireland, we put pen to paper in remembrance of our friend, and benefactor, Pat Smullen.
Pat was a friend like no other. Almost a year ago to the day, Pat and his supporters raised a game-changing €2.6m for pancreatic cancer clinical trials. We would like to put this into context for you – just how dramatic and unusual this degree of fundraising is.
Earlier this year, Comic Relief reached out to the entire country and raised almost €6m with the help of a host of celebs across several hours of prime time TV. Pat Smullen and the horse racing community raised almost half that - €2.6m – for pancreatic cancer clinical trials alone. People diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Ireland will feel the benefit of it for years, if not decades, to come.
The low incidence of pancreatic cancer (around 560 people diagnosed in Ireland each year), the fact that it is not usually diagnosed early, and the relative difficulty of treating the disease effectively with the usual tools (chemotherapy; radiotherapy) make for a challenging, sparse research environment.
But as a direct result of the funds Pat helped raise, Cancer Trials Ireland received nine research proposals this year. Three studies are now being advanced or explored, one of which will open in Ireland in a matter of weeks.
That is the work Pat has enabled us to do. But that is not all that Pat did for Cancer Trials Ireland. Last November, he helped us to raise more than €120,000 for ovarian and prostate cancer trials. Earlier this year, he gave us the go ahead to fund a Next Generation Sequencing machine (€100,000) for St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin.
This machine will allow doctors to genetically sequence pancreatic cancer tumours, and other tumours, potentially opening up treatment options for thousands of people with all types of cancer.
On a more personal level, Pat continually made himself available for interviews, photo calls, and phone calls - anything that might help people in a situation similar to his own.
It is a mark of the man that he had such a wide-ranging generosity. Pat’s popularity – and humility – was and is legendary. It was truly remarkable, and inspiring, to see that these qualities can coexist with the drive and determination it takes to reach the very top of his demanding sport.
Our thoughts, today and always, are with the Pat’s wife Frances, his children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, and his wider family.
Clinical trials offer patients very real, tangible, important benefits – but they can also provide something as vital as it is intangible: Hope. That is Pat’s real gift to the people who come after him, who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
The outpouring of love and support his efforts have generated give hope to us all.
Thank you, Pat."