Racing

Shergar's jockey Swinburn dies

Just 19, he rode the equine star to a record 10-length victory in the 1981 Epsom Derby

Walter Swinburn, who rode the legendary but ill-fated Shergar, has died peacefully at home in London, England, on Monday.

He was 55.

He had reportedly been suffering from epilepsy.

Nicknamed the "Choirboy" for his angelic looks, he was just 19 when he rode the Michael Stoute-trained Shergar to a record 10-length victory in the 1981 Epsom Derby - his first ride in the race commonly regarded as the blue riband of the turf.

The Aga Khan-owned equine star - whom Swinburn also rode to victory in the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes - was to be later kidnapped from his Irish Stud and never returned.

Swinburn rode another two Derby winners on Shahrastani in 1986 and Lammtarra in 1995. In 1983, he won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's most prestigious race, for the one and only time on the astonishing race mare All Along for French art dealer Daniel Wildenstein.

He was to ride All Along in a stunning three-race sweep in North America which garnered her the top American racing award, the Eclipse Horse of the Year Award, for 1983.

We enjoyed many great days together but I would say our first Derby together with Shergar, when he was just 19, was an obvious one. Shergar's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute

In all, Swinburn rode eight British classic winners (Group 1 races restricted to three-year-old horses).

But he suffered a terrible riding accident in Hong Kong at Sha Tin racecourse in 1996, which resulted in him being in a coma for four days and left him with multiple injuries including a punctured lung.

Within months, though, he had recovered well enough to guide Stoute's Pilsudski to victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

However, weight problems forced him to quit the saddle soon afterwards and he took up training, but he never found the success he had enjoyed as a jockey.

Swinburn took over a training licence from his father-in-law Peter Harris in 2004 and it was Harris who confirmed the news of Swinburn's death to the UK's Press Association news agency, although no cause of death was immediately provided.

Swinburn's death prompted a cavalcade of tributes, with jumps racing legend AP McCoy tweeting: "Brilliant stylish and a genius in the saddle. A jockey that God hath retained. RIP."

Stoute, too, paid tribute to his former stable jockey, with whom he enjoyed so many memorable moments, saying he was a "natural horseman with great hands".

"He had the right temperament for the big days and he thrived on them. We enjoyed many great days together but I would say our first Derby together with Shergar, when he was just 19, was an obvious one," said Stoute. - Wire Services