Former outstanding jockey Walter Swinburn, who was almost killed in a spectacular race fall at Sha Tin in 1996, has passed away at the age of 55 in London.
Swinburn lay in intensive care at the Prince Of Wales Hospital for several days in February, 1996, after an unraced griffin named Liffey River he was riding ran him through the inside running rail just after the start of a 1,200m race.
Swinburn suffered severe head injuries, multiple fractures and a punctured lung in the accident, and then suffered with breathing problems when he regained consciousness from the fall.
His life hung in the balance for two days but Swinburn not only survived, he returned to race riding within six months and capped his extraordinary comeback by winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Pilsudski later that year.
Nicknamed “The Choirboy” for his angelic looks, Swinburn was 19 when he won the first of three Derbies at Epsom on Michael Stoute-trained Shergar, who posted a record 10-length margin.
Owned by the Aga Khan, Shergar also won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes under Swinburn but became the most famous classic winner of all time for another reason – two years later, while standing at stud in Ireland, he was kidnapped and never seen again.
Swinburn, who rode eight British classic winners, frequently rode in Hong Kong during the European winter, with 303 rides between 1986 and 1996 for 36 wins.
Weight issues forced him to quit race riding and he switched to training in 2004 but experienced only modest success, despite a winner at Royal Ascot in 2011, and he retired at the end of that year.
Swinburn’s death prompted a cavalcade of tributes with jumps racing legend A.P. McCoy tweeting: “Brilliant stylish and a genius in the saddle. A jockey that God hath retained. RIP.”
Stoute 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.
Additional reporting Agence France-Presse