Irish President leads tributes after Derby winner Smullen dies aged 43

Dublin (AFP) –


Irish President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to 2016 Epsom Derby winning jockey Pat Smullen who died of pancreatic cancer late on Tuesday aged just 43.

Higgins expressed his "deep sadness" and said Smullen's "remarkable performances at home and abroad brought joy to so many".

His death was announced exactly a year after a legends race he organised, won by record breaking jumps jockey AP McCoy, helped raise more than 2.5 million euros (£2.3m) for pancreatic cancer trials and research.

The esteem that Smullen was held in was reflected by McCoy going back on his promise never to ride again after he retired from the saddle.

Smullen -- who leaves behind his wife, Frances, and three children -- had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018.

Although there were positive signs from his treatment he was unable to ride in the legends race when he suffered a relapse.

Smullen experienced most of his greatest moments riding for Dermot Weld with the most memorable winning the Epsom Derby on Harzand in 2016 -- they were to add the Irish version a few weeks later.

The nine-time Irish champion jockey, though, reflected on how his career had sometimes placed strains on his family life.

"My whole life was consumed by riding and winning, to the point where I'm a bit embarrassed looking back on how I behaved as a father (of three) and as a husband," he told the Irishman Abroad podcast.

"It probably took something like this [the cancer diagnosis] for me to have a reality check about being a good person."

Other big races to come Smullen and Weld's way included the 2003 English 2000 Guineas with Refuse To Bend and the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup with Rite Of Passage.

"Pat Smullen was one of Irish racing's brightest stars, a nine-time champion, but his achievements in the saddle pale in comparison to his qualities out of it," said Brian Kavanagh of Horse Racing Ireland.

"An inspiration to us all, his legacy is large."

British racing authorities also paid him a handsome tribute.

"He will forever be remembered as one of the greats -- not only at home in Ireland, but here in Britain and across the racing world," the British Horse Racing Authority said in a statement.