Donn's Articles » Smullen honoured by elite

Smullen honoured by elite

Pat Smullen continually said on Sunday that the day wasn’t about him, but it was.  It wouldn’t have happened were it not for him.  They wouldn’t have come.

When AP McCoy rode Gannicus to win the legends’ race at Doncaster in September 2015, four months after he had officially retired from race-riding, he said that it was a one-off, that he would never ride in a race again.

Ruby Walsh got off Kemboy in the winner’s enclosure at Punchestown last April, and said that that was it, that he wouldn’t be riding again.

Both of them meant it too.  If either of them was going to ride again, it was going to take something extraordinary to get them there.

Ruby Walsh summed it up on Saturday, the day before the race.  There are some people in the world, he said, who, when they ask you to do something, you just do it.

It was something extraordinary too.  It was a day of top class racing, nine races, four of them Group 1s.  Yet, there was always a chance that the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland would trump them all.

And it wasn’t just the race.  It wasn’t just the riders.  Paul Carberry, Ted Durcan, Kieren Fallon, Richard Hughes, Johnny Murtagh, AP McCoy, Joseph O’Brien, Charlie Swan, Ruby Walsh.  Multiple champions all.  

It was the occasion, the cause.  The man.  They were there because Pat Smullen asked them to be there.

The only downside was that Pat Smullen wasn’t riding in the race himself.  When the race was but a germ of an idea, the intention was that he would.  Then he had that sickening setback that necessitated more chemotherapy. 

You would have forgiven him if he had retreated then, gone to ground, hidden from the world and concentrated on getting himself right again, but he didn’t.  It was just another measure of the man that he is.  Fund-raising efforts increased and momentum gathered.  Every donation valued, from significant contributions from people like JP McManus and Moyglare Stud and Sheikh Hamdan, to the people who were coming up to Ruby Walsh and Dermot Weld at the races and handing them cheques and cash.  Every penny going to Cancer Trials Ireland.  As of yesterday morning, the amount raised had gone beyond €2.5 million.  It’s staggering. 

The preamble on Sunday followed the script.  The crowds gathered and the atmosphere built.  Dermot Weld won the Moyglare “Jewels” Blandford Stakes with Tarnawa.  Then the trainer sent the Moyglare Stud filly Search For A Song out for the Comer Group International Irish St Leger under Chris Hayes, and he won that too.

There was a resonance to that win.  The trainer, the race, the colours.  Not only were Dermot Weld and Pat Smullen a formidable partnership throughout the entire of the rider’s career, but the Irish St Leger is a special race for Pat Smullen.  He won it four times in a row on Vinnie Roe, with the first of those victories, in the 2001 renewal, the victory from which his career took flight.  As well as that, the Moyglare Stud colours that Chris Hayes wore on Sunday, the black body with the white sleeves, the red cap with the black star, are colours that are synonymous with Pat Smullen.

The Pat Smullen race followed the script too.  It rained beforehand, but nobody cared.  There was a feeling of bonhomie and camaraderie, a feelgood buzz that told you that this was a special occasion.  The riders joked and laughed beforehand and, when the stalls opened, they rode to win.

AP McCoy led the whole way on the Laverys’ horse Quizical.  He was challenged by Ruby Walsh on his right and Johnny Murtagh on his left at the furlong marker, with Paul Carberry stalking on the far side on Katiymann, but we had seen that drive a few times before, that thou-shalt-not-pass drive.  And it was fitting too that Dessie Scahill called them home.

Emotions were all over the place.  Sheila Lavery said that she wished more than anything that it had been Pat who she had been legging up but, for her horse to win Pat’s race, with AP McCoy riding, that was the next best thing.  AP McCoy said that it was all down to Pat Smullen, a great jockey and an even better person.  That it was a day that he could be proud of. 

Pat Smullen said that he was overcome.  That it was overwhelming.  Humbling.  That he felt privileged.  That it wasn’t about him.  But we know that it was.

 © The Sunday Times, 22nd September 2019