Obituary: Charlie Smirke

Charles Smirke, jockey: born London 1906: died Leatherhead 20 December 1993.

CHARLIE SMIRKE's four Derby wins, along with his seven other Classic successes, fully entitle him to be bracketed along with Sir Gordon Richards, Harry Wragg, and Lester Piggott as one of the outstanding jockeys of his era.

Smirke's self-confident, almost aggressive personality enabled him to compete with the most gifted of his profession. And a cheerful outlook on life that was near-impossible to subdue, even in hard times, served him well in facing setbacks during a riding career which spanned nearly 40 years, with his first Derby ride, in 1924, separated by 35 years from the last.

This period included a wholly unjust five-year suspension from the Jockey Club at a crucial time when a less durable character's fledgling career might have floundered. In fact, within a season of returning to the saddle, Smirke had won his first Derby and went on to reap the success his natural talent warranted.

Smirke was born in Lambeth, south London, in 1906. he was the son of a fruit merchant and had no previous family involvement with racing to draw on when his diminutive stature raised the possibility of a career in the saddle. Like many other fine riders of his generation, he joined the legendary trainer of the day Stanley Wootton, in 1920, and rode his first winner in a seller at Derby. In 1922, Solomon Joel retained the young apprentice, taking advantage of a frame that was still under seven stone and able to partner the lowest weights in any of the big handicaps of the day.

In 1926, the penultimate year of his apprenticeship, Smirke was retained by the Aga Khan, the beginning of an association that would last, on and off, for the next 30 years. At this point in Smirke's career, when he should have been consolidating his growing popularity with owners, he was the subject of one of the Turf's great injustices. In 1928, he was warned off for five years by the Jockey Club which found him guilty of making no effort to start on a horse called Welcome Gift, an 11-4 on favourite, at the now defunct Gatwick racecourse.

Smirke protested his innocence, and although the horse subsequently repeated the boorish reluctance to race on a number of occasions, the low public standing of jockeys at the time in the eyes of the racing establishment ruled out the possibility of justice on appeal.

His efforts to re-establish his career, having served his suspension, could have floundered - Smirke was reduced to sleeping on the beach in Brighton as he struggled to make ends meet before returning to the plate in 1933 - had he not secured the ride on Windsor Lad in the following year's Derby, his first Classic win.

Two years later, Smirke was re-established as one of his generation's most gifted pilots, and confirmed this status by winning his second Derby. He had already repaid the Aga's loyalty in restoring him to the saddle after suspension by winning the 1935 St Leger on Bahram. The following year at Epsom, he steered the same owner's Mahmoud to victory in the Derby in a record 2 minutes 33.8 seconds, a time since matched only by the present Aga Khan's Khayasi in 1988.

Smirke repeated the success for the same owner on Tulyar in 1952 and for another powerful owner-breeder of the day, Sir Victor Sassoon, in 1958 on Hard Ridden, at the age of 51. Tulyar went on to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the St Leger and was probably Smirke's best Derby winner, despite the evidence of the clock which points to Mahmoud.

Before retiring from riding in 1960, Smirke rode in France for the Aga as stable jockey to Alec Head, himself an outstanding horseman. He won the 1,000 Guineas for Head on Rose Royale II in 1957, but was replaced as the retained rider the same year. Although he considered training on his retirement, Smirke kept no professional links with racing and in later years was rarely seen on a racecourse.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments