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'There's a fair chance you won't see us riding again. It's a special cause for a special person in my life'

Legends of racing met at Joseph O’Brien’s yard this morning to promote the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland.

McCoy, Walsh, Carberry and Swan chatting today.
McCoy, Walsh, Carberry and Swan chatting today.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE POUNDS AND ounces are on the increase, ditto the grey hairs and in some cases the hair itself is fighting a losing battle but there is still in aura about these lads.

Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry and Charlie Swan will probably never fully accept that they no longer ride. The exhilaration and will to win never leaves you. Tuesday morning on Joseph O’Brien’s Owning hill gave them a new perspective on retirement.

Swan greeted an in-form Pat Smullen at a wedding recently and naturally they got to talking about the charity race to take place Sunday week in which Smullen, having come through horrendously tough cancer treatment on the right side, would head a cast of legends the like of which the world had never seen in a single race. There will also be Richard Hughes, Johnny Murtagh, Kieren Fallon, Ted Durcan.

“Pat was genuinely so excited at that wedding,” Swan recalled, his smile trailing with his words.

Smullen wanted that ride so badly. He wanted to be in his nephew’s yard on Tuesday morning to promote the gig. Life is absurd in its cruelty.

Last week and the update on his illness had everyone in racing cursing the gods.

Unfortunately I’ve had a setback with my health and have to undergo chemotherapy.

“On advice from my medical team, I am unable to ride in the Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland. I am bitterly disappointed not to be able to take part in this very special race — I was really looking forward to riding against such a brilliant group of champions, especially at the Curragh.

“I’ve spoken to Horse Racing Ireland, who are helping me with the fundraising activity over Longines Irish Champions Weekend, and I am more determined than ever that the fundraising activity goes ahead because pancreatic cancer needs more awareness now than ever before.”

This morning, Joseph O’Brien welcomed the four other legends of the jumps game. The race will go ahead and, as I pointed out to his wife Frances, it may be more competitive in Smullen’s absence: the great man won’t be there to get a soft lead.

pat-smullen-champions-race-for-cancer-trial-photocall Riding out at Joseph O'Brien's yard in Owning. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We don’t know what we’re riding but we all really want to win it,” says Carberry. He’s a bit stiff after riding work with the other legends this morning but he lights up when talking about his nine-year-old daughter Casey Lou. Remember the name: she’s likely to be a star.

Smullen was a star rider and I’m pondering which of these was the best, after Carberry obviously. “That’s a silly question. Impossible to answer,” Joseph says. Charlie reckons they were not comparable.

Jesus they were all great. Brilliant all rounders but Paul for his coolness, Ruby his determination and AP his courage.”

“What about you, Charlie?”

“I think I was lucky.”


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McCoy concedes that it is “tough circumstances” but the race is “my last chance to ride a winner at the Curragh”. He recalls his first ride there back in October 1990. It finished second.

He has ridden in maiden hurdles against Joseph and Pat. “I remember both of us riding at Naas and I remember Pat lifting this obviously heavy saddle back into the weighing room and throwing it on the table: ‘I will never ever need that again!’”

McCoy says the Curragh race won’t make him better but it might give him some satisfaction. Pat asked Ruby about it in Ascot and be was delighted to do it.
“It’s an incredible race and Pat came up with the idea. They are all world-class jockeys. It’s just a pity for us Pat isn’t riding in it.”

Ruby reckons that over the past week they’ve become more determined than ever to make it a fitting fundraiser to research pancreatic cancer. “There’s a fair chance you won’t see us riding again. It’s a special cause for a special person in my life.”

Life is special while we’re here. That he could meet adversity like he has over the past year and a half showed how special Pat Smullen knows each day to be.

About the author:

Johnny Ward

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