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John Duggan: Pat Smullen showe...
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John Duggan: Pat Smullen showed us the qualities of bravery, dignity and class

John Duggan writes that there is an outpouring of heartbreak and sadness over the passing of popular jockey Pat Smullen 

There is a time when good people sometimes come together and do something remarkable.

That time was on the 15th September 2019, when jockeys such as AP McCoy, Kieren Fallon, Johnny Murtagh and Ruby Walsh came out of retirement to ride in a charity race at the Curragh for Pat Smullen in order to raise money for cancer research.

They did it for Pat. He organised it with the help of Joe Foley and Horse Racing Ireland and they raised €2.6 million for Cancer Trials Ireland. A year to the day this week, Pat passed away at the age of 43.

Pat Smullen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018, but that didn’t hold him back from trying to help other people. His efforts reminded me of the Canadian Terry Fox, selflessly fundraising so that others may receive better treatment in the future.

As a consequence of this fundraising, Cancer Trials revealed in a letter of gratitude to the Smullen family that Ireland received nine research proposals this year and one study will open in Ireland in a matter of weeks. St Vincent’s Hospital have been funded with a Next Generation Sequencing Machine, costing €100,000, which will allow doctors to genetically sequence pancreatic cancer tumours. All of this will help people.

Pat was as positive dealing with his illness as he was riding horses, as he told us when he was good enough to give OTB some time for an interview last year.

So it was a punch to the gut this week to hear he has gone. Life can be cruel and at times it feels unfair.

All one can do is think of and say a prayer for Pat’s wife Frances, his children Hannah, Paddy and Sarah and his wide circle of friends.

Pat’s riding career was decorated by consistency and achievement.

He was Irish flat champion nine times, striking up a formidable partnership with trainer Dermot Weld over two decades.

A proud Offaly man, Pat was one of the big guns of the weigh room, alongside Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh.

Flat racing is tough, with a lot of long days, losing and physical wasting.

A hardworking, tough, tactically astute jockey, Pat won 12 European Classics in the saddle, landing the biggest prize of all aboard Harzand in the 2016 Epsom Derby.

Pat was honoured at the Horse Racing Ireland awards in Dublin last December and received a standing ovation. It was a poignant evening.

I spoke to him afterwards and he talked about the decency of the Irish racing community, describing it as a ‘winner’ for getting behind the initiative for Cancer Trials. He was right. There is something earthy about racing people, a raw warmth. They call it as it is, they are fun, loyal and supportive.

Pat chatted about Epsom being the highlight of his career and how appreciative he was to win the famous race late in life, at the age of 39, when his success wouldn’t pass him or his family by. His name is in the history books beside a race that was first run in 1780.

On that June day in Epsom four years ago, Harzand wouldn’t give in to the challenge of US Army Ranger, and battled hard under Pat’s urgings in the final furlong to win.

Upon retiring, Pat displayed even greater stoicism out of the saddle and he was a tremendous example to others about how to go about your business, how to conduct yourself.

The tribute from President Michael D Higgins and the outpouring of love towards Pat and his family across social and traditional media amid the deep sadness of his passing is testament to that.

May he rest in peace.

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