| 1.6°C Dublin

Pat defined by his kind soul

Close

Pat Smullen celebrates on Harzand after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh in June 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

Pat Smullen celebrates on Harzand after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh in June 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Pat Smullen celebrates on Harzand after winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh in June 2016. Photo: Sportsfile

The dew was still fresh on the ground and the sky glistened as a car of eager Offaly punters made their way to the Curragh one Saturday morning in 2011 for a date on the gallops with racing royalty.

The one and only Pat Smullen would partner Lechevalier Choisi - a three-year-old colt trained by Jim McCabe and owned by a syndicate of racing rookies from the midlands including myself - at the Curragh in a fact-finding mission.

Lechevalier Choisi was known as a speedster which broke early and set a ferocious pace but tentative plans were in motion to possibly step the son of Choisir, which would win his maiden at Navan that year by four lengths, up in trip and a professional opinion was sought.

Smullen's every movement was watched as the Offaly legend put him through his paces and the feedback was eagerly awaited after he moved smoothly through his fast work.

There were no airs and graces about the Rhode native, despite his glittering CV in the saddle, and it was clear that he wasn't just picking up another pay cheque. This task would be treated with the same care and attention as a Group One-winning mount for his long-time boss Dermot Weld.

His parting remark that "if he stays a mile, he'll be the best horse in Europe" was like manna from heaven and it left us skipping down the road with hopes burning bright that we had a potential superstar on our hands.

To have been at such close quarters with a man who had made himself one of the most recognisable faces in world racing was a buzz like no other and we were treated with the same respect that he afforded regular patrons like the Aga Khan, Khalid Abdullah or Dr Ronan Lambe.

'Chevers' did cut it as a miler when landing a lucrative handicap over eight furlongs after being sold to race in Hong Kong later that year and having Smullen aboard for his last mount during a failed attempt at Group Two company in Newmarket was a fitting end to our remarkable racing journey.

Memories

To have those memories and share those special moments with a fellow county man is always a source of honour because Offaly people followed his every move and lived vicariously through his successes.

Whether it was the English 2,000 Guineas with Refuse to Bend in 2003, the Breeders' Cup Marathon on Muhannak 12 years ago or Epsom Derby success with Harzand in 2016, racing's good guy always had a fan club because he was a man of the people over a career spanning 25 years.

When word filtered through social media that he had lost his brave fight with pancreatic cancer last night, sadness gripped the racing world as the nine-time Irish champion flat jockey had been robbed of his life aged just 43.

His story is one which will inspire people for generations to come and fittingly, it is something which he achieved out of the saddle that really proves the measure of the man.

Cancer is an illness which touches every family at some stage but the way he carried himself with grace and class when his body was going through excruciating physical and mental pain was the truest sign of his character.

He could have fumed about the illness which had befell him but instead, he decided to use his name and personality to create a legacy and his decision to put together a Legends Race at last year's Irish Champions Weekend will never be forgotten.

Those in attendance on that famous day still recall the goosepimples around the parade ring as eight of the world's finest champion jockeys came together for one man.

Smullen's mission was to raise funds for Cancer Trials Ireland in an effort to prevent others being forced to go through the hellish regime he endured and what he achieved was extraordinary, with €2.5million raised.

It was somewhat poignant that he passed away exactly a year to the day since that race saw the legendary AP McCoy come out of retirement to prevail amid emotional scenes. The esteem with which Smullen was held within racing circles was clear for all to see.

Life was always for living when it came to Pat Smullen and the lives which he has touched are all the more enriched for his company. Racing's kindest soul has weighed out for the final time but will never be forgotten.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.