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Sunday 25 September 2016

Pat's loyalty pays off

Pat Smullen gestures as he wins the Epsom Derby on Harzand. Photo: PA
Pat Smullen gestures as he wins the Epsom Derby on Harzand. Photo: PA

You just wonder how many offers Pat Smullen has had over the years to pull up stumps and settle elsewhere.

For years, Smullen was something of a secret gem, his talents as a world-class jockey seemingly going unnoticed when big race spare rides were floating around, but that has changed in recent seasons.

His name was linked to the Ballydoyle/Coolmore job at one stage.

This year the eight-time Irish champion jockey had been expected to ride Midterm in the Derby for Sir Michael Stoute.

Midterm is owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, who Smullen rides for on a regular basis when available.

The Prince has had a few retained jockeys over the years and one can only speculate that he may have quizzed Smullen on his interest in the job but whatever temptations were offered to the Offaly native, all have been turned down.

And why wouldn't they be? Dermot Weld's loyalty to Smullen ,and vice versa, has served the pair extremely well over the years and on Saturday they reached the pinnacle together.

Weld is closing in on 4,000 winners around the world and Ireland's trainer with the most wins has enjoyed the challenge, rewriting racing's record books for decades, but you don't become as successful as the great 'DK' if notable omissions from a bulging CV don't grate.

So, come the first Saturday in June every year there has been one race that Weld has sought more than any other. No longer.

Already, at this very early stage, Smullen is striding clear in an attempt to be champion jockey for a ninth time, but Saturday's Epsom Derby win aboard Harzand was a lifelong dream lived out.

But in typically modest, Smullen fashion, within minutes of winning the most famous Flat race in the world, was paying tribute to the Rosewell House team.

On Saturday, he said: "For the boss, to win this race is more fitting and I am delighted to have ridden a winner for him. He is the world's greatest trainer and the trouble we had this morning - I didn't know whether I was going to get on the plane or not!

"The boys have worked absolutely unbelievably to get him [Harzand] here sound and fit. It's a whole team effort and I am so privileged to be in the position to ride these horses. We all get on really well - there's a great atmosphere in the yard - and it is a whole team effort. I am delighted for the team."

Harzand pulled off a shoe on his way to Epsom and his participation was in doubt just hours before the race, but overseen by Weld, the Epsom vet and Jim Bolger's farrier, the green light was given and the rest is now well and truly history.

Smullen said yesterday: "It was my greatest day in racing. When you start out and dream of being a jockey as a child it's something special."

Weld, meanwhile, said: "I think I had to put the Derby on my CV."

Of his stable jockey, he said: "Pat is my retained jockey, we've a long association, he rides my horses and hopefully will as long as I'm training.

"Pat can ride in England and other parts of the world when I don't require him, that's in his contract and our understanding, he has zero problem with that.

"Pat has been highly successful for me since he took over from Michael Kinane, I've only had those two in 30 years."

Harzand, Weld and Smullen have combined to win the blue riband of Flat racing and while that will forever take pride of place, with this colt alone they are sure to have many more enjoyable days this season.

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