Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pat Smullen

Pat Smullen

By Stephen Dwyer
There is no busier jockey in Ireland at the moment than Patrick Joseph Smullen. Even at the start of the Galway Festival, a week in which he is partnered with practically every runner Dermot Weld turns out, Smullen has had 327 rides this season. This is a significant figure for although Smullen sits second in the Jockey’s title race behind Joseph O’ Brien, he has had 110 more rides than the young Ballydoyle pilot. With 44 wins to his name so far this term, Smullen is just 4 wins behind Joseph O’ Brien. Bound to be buoyed by the inevitable success that he encounters each Summer at Galway, it will be no surprise to see Smullen top the leading riders charts. Deservedly so.
Pat Smullen is a native of Rhode in County Offaly, he turned 35 last May and is married to Frances Crowley who in her own right is a fine horsewoman both as a former trainer and the first ever woman to be crowned Irish Champion Amateur Rider. Crowley is also the sister-in-law of Aidan O’Brien. Many years before becoming a leading rider, Smullen became interested in horses through his brother Sean. Sean Smullen worked with Joanna Morgan where he prepared horses for the breeze-up sales. As a slight teenager, Pat was noticed by Joanna Morgan and he began to exercise horses for her and ride them at breeze-up sales. It was shortly after this introduction that Smullen began cycling down to Tom Lacy, a small trainer with about 15 horses based about three miles away from the Smullen household.
Shortly after turning sixteen, Smullen would ride his first winner, Vicosa, trained by Tom Lacy in an apprentice handicap at Dundalk. From that starting point it took just two years before Smullen was crowned champion apprentice with 26 winners, a title he retained the following year with 29. In 1997, at the age of 20, he rode his first Group 1 winner. After wintering in Dubai for a couple of seasons, Smullen became stable jockey to Dermot Weld in 1999 when Mick Kinane moved to Aidan O’ Brien. Smullen claimed his first Irish jockeys' championship in 2000 with 80 wins from 514 rides, leaving him 14 clear of both Johnny Murtagh and Mick Kinane and retained that title in 2001 when finishing three in front of Kinane.

Aboard Vinnie Roe, Smullen would win four Irish St. Legers, he would also win the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with Refuse to Bend and he Irish Derby with Grey Swallow. One of his most famous career wins came courtesy of Rite Of Passage in the Ascot Gold Cup at Royal Ascot Aside from this glittering cast there have been major career wins both in France and the USA.
Smullen is an accomplished rider, a multiple Champion Jockey he is tenacious in the saddle and one of the best judges of a race in living memory. His association with Dermot Weld, especially throughout the Galway Festival is a symbiotic one, both trainer and jockey gel so closely that rarely has a partnership lasted so long, hand in glove. Remember it was Pat Smullen who was the bookie’s even-money favourite to take the vacant post at Ballydoyle when Johnny Murtagh resigned in 2010. At the time Smullen elected to rule himself out of the post in record time, noting “I've got a very good job and I ride for some very good owners, so I'm happy where I am". To be Champion Jockey at the end of the season, Smullen is a best-priced 7/4, although Joseph O’ Brien is a short 4/7, the value could be with Smullen. His work rate, ride frequency and dogged belief are all admirable and he could be the percentage call.

Staggeringly, Smullen rode 592 times during the 2011 flat season, 645 times in 2010 and 671 times in 2009. He has historically ridden more times per season than any other jockey in Ireland. Although 35, he has no intention of retiring just yet, when questioned “I haven’t really thought about a point when I will give it up really. I have always said that I’d want to give it up before it gives me up, I want to be riding at the highest level when I do decide to give up. I don’t think I’ll be riding until I’m 50, like Mick Kinane”.
Dare we think that the best is yet to come.

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