The sad news came through last night, that Pat Smullen had passed away at the age of only 43.
He didn’t ride that many for me, but when he did, not much went wrong. I remember he rode Carntop to win a 2yr old maiden on the Rowley Mile in 2015, and because of the colt’s owners I had to nail him down to an opinion of the horse’s future. He was entirely accurate, `He’s a stakes horse alright but I worry about that head carriage’. Looking at the horse’s subsequent form made that quote as prescient as any from a jockey before or since.
The Breeders Cup Marathon of 2008 was a great moment for us, and as it was Pat’s first (and only) Breeders Cup win it must have been for him too.
Muhannak was very talented, but also a rogue. When he arrived at Whitsbury he wouldn’t train, and he took a lot of figuring out , before we got into a routine that worked for him. He won a handicap at Kempton under Seb Sanders, before Seb broke his leg , so when we sent him to Dundalk to run in a listed race we booked Pat, who had to get off him on the way to post and lead him down. But he won, and booked his ticket to Santa Anita, where Travelling Head Man Gary Plasted and I hacked him around the grounds every day for a week, with a pony.
On the first day of the meeting Mike Smith had slingshotted ( is that a word? ) Zenyatta into the top bend when winning the Distaff. Pat and I didn’t discuss tactics until he got into the paddock, and we were so immersed in discussing carrying out the same move, that the horses were leaving the paddock before we realised, and we had to run after Muhannak down the tunnel to leg Pat up, to the amusement of several thousand spectators.
To paraphrase comedian Bob Monkhouse, they weren’t laughing after Pat executed that slingshot move perfectly, and held on to that advantage in a driving finish up the short Santa Anita straight.
Pat was brilliant that day partly because he exuded confidence, in his own matter of fact way. We needed that, because we were on our first trip there, and frankly out of our depth. Four year old Muhannak had come from nowhere in under four months, and we really didn’t know whether he was up to that level. The Marathon was a brand new race, run over a surface that was unique ( Pro-Ride ) and in searing heat. Owner Richard Pegum had backed my judgement for years, but this was a big leap of faith, and we needed Pat to be at his very best; he was.
More important than all this, he was a star man with no side to him, we were lucky to have known him. Our thoughts are with Frances and family.
We have been going consistently on the racecourse. Too many seconds for my liking, Star of Orion on the Curragh, State of Occasion at Wolves, and Jacinta de Vega at Salisbury spring to mind. But New Mandate was brave in the Flying Scotsman at Doncaster, and justified his purchase from syndicate The Lucra Partnership, by new owner Marc Chan.
Lucander was good in the 10f handicap at York’s Ebor meeting, and Prince Alex brought up the hat trick at Leicester 10 days ago. We have had seven winners at the halfway stage of this month, let’s hope we can find seven more.