Charlie Smirke

Born in Lambeth, London on 23rd September 1906, Charlie Smirke was among the greatest jockeys of the 20th century. His riding career spanned 38 years, during which he rode 11 British Classic winners and a further nine in Ireland. However, his ebullient personality was often at odds with racing’s rulers.
Apprenticed to Stanley Wooton at Epsom, he rode his first winner at Derby on 8th April 1922. He was champion apprentice in 1925 and again in 1926 and was retained by the Aga Khan, thus beginning an association that would endure on and off for 30 years.
His career received a major setback following a race at Derby in August 1928 in which his mount Welcome Gift was left at the start. The starter alleged that Smirke had made no attempt to start and reported him to the Jockey Club stewards, resulting in Smirke being warned off. Events proved that Smirke was innocent as Welcome Gift repeatedly dwelt or refused to start in subsequent races, yet his licence was not restored until 1933.
He quickly made up for lost time, winning the 1934 Derby and St Leger on Windsor Lad, the 1935 St Leger on Bahram (substituting for the injured Freddie Fox) and the 1936 Derby on Mahmoud.

During World War Two, Smirke served initially as a bombardier in the 60th Light Anti- Aircraft Regiment. and then as a driver, taking part in the invasion of Sicily. He did not ride between 1941 and 1945, leaving him to pick up the threads of his career on demobilization.
He rode over hurdles in Ireland as a temporary measure, returning to win the 1946 Wokingham Stakes, July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes on The Bug.
In 1948 he won the 2,000 Guineas on the Maharajah of Baroda’s colt My Babu and, later that year, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the Aga Khan’s Migoli. His renewed association with the Aga Khan brought him further Classic glory with Palestine in the 1950 2,000 Guineas and the 1952 Derby and St Leger with Tulyar. In the autumn of 1953 he won the Washington DC International at Laurel Park in Maryland on the French-trained Worden II. Smirke rode only infrequently during his last three seasons, though his total of just three winners in 1958 included that year’s Derby on Hard Ridden. His last win was on Sovereign Path at Windsor on 6th November 1959, retiring at the end of the season.
Married three times, Charlie Smirke died at Leatherhead, Surrey on 20th December 1993, aged 87.