Trainer Sir Michael Stoute has led tributes to Walter Swinburn, calling him “naturally gifted rider with a God-given talent” after the death of the former jockey and trainer at the age of 55.
Forever associated with the Stoute-trained extraordinary 1981 Derby winner Shergar, Swinburn suffered with weight issues throughout a glittering career in the saddle.
Yet despite his problems, he will always be remembered as a brilliant jockey and a man for the big occasion.
“He was always totally unfazed,” Stoute told At The Races.
“I’d drive him to the races and he slept the whole way there. He had a remarkable temperament for the big day.
“He was just a naturally gifted rider with a God-given talent. The big days turned him on.
“We had a great relationship. Of course there were many times when he drove me absolutely mad, but he just had this unique talent.
“We loved him riding the horses and he had a great relationship with the staff over a long period.
“He always had to work very hard on his weight.
“There was a vulnerability, but that maybe comes when you have as much talent as he did.”
Swinburn suffered severe head and chest injuries in a fall at Sha Tin racecourse in 1996 and was placed in a coma for four days.
He returned to action within six months, and at the end of the year won the Breeders’ Cup Turf on the Stoute-trained Pilsudski.
“I think the win on Pilsudski gave him a great deal of satisfaction, that was a great day for us at Woodbine,” Stoute said.
Swinburn enjoyed many fine days in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, whose managing director Chris Richardson said: “I am shocked at the news.
“Walter was an integral part for David and Patricia Thompson’s Cheveley Park Stud success in the 1990s.
“Wonderful memories of Gay Gallanta and Exclusive’s Group One successes, to name but two.”
Leading French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek described Swinburn as “one of the greatest ever jockeys”.
Head-Maarek and Swinburn developed a fruitful association in the 1990s, most notably with Hatoof, on whom the rider won the 1000 Guineas and the Champion Stakes at Newmarket.
“He was such a talented rider. He had really soft hands and had fantastic judgement during races,” Head-Maarek said.
“Walter was a great boy and it is such a young age that he has died.
“When you like someone, you never want them to leave.
“In my opinion, I think he was one of the greatest ever jockeys.”
Nicknamed the ‘Choirboy’, he partnered Shergar to Derby glory at the age of 19 – one of three winners for Swinburn in the Epsom Classic alongside Shahrastani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995).
Swinburn also won the 1983 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the filly All Along, trained by Patrick Biancone.
Shergar and Swinburn went on to claim the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in their Derby-winning year.