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Obituary: ‘Smokin’ Joe was one of the greatest of all time

Mon 17 May 2021
 Mercer tells Her Majesty The Queen about another success (PA)
Mercer tells Her Majesty The Queen about another success (PA)

Former champion Flat jockey Joe Mercer enjoyed 38 years in the saddle from 1947 to 1985 and rode 2,810 domestic winners.

He won eight English Classics, with only the Derby eluding him, and was the man who rode the mighty Brigadier Gerard.

Bradford-born Mercer got into racing through his elder brother, Manny, and joined Jack Colling’s stable, where he worked hard to establish himself and was rewarded by being champion apprentice in 1952.

The next year he won the Oaks on Ambiguity for Colling and retained his apprentice title.

When Colling retired, Dick Hern took over and the pair developed into one of the top combinations in racing. Their first Classic triumph together came with Provoke in the St Leger in desperate conditions at Doncaster in 1965.

Mercer went on to win the Leger three more times, on Bustino (1974), Light Cavalry (1980) and Cut Above (1981).

Mercer and Brigadier Gerard win the Guineas in 1971

Cut Above was a surprise winner, having the odds-on Shergar back in fourth place after Mercer made it a stern stamina test by setting sail for home early in the straight.

Bustino went into racing folklore when just beaten by Grundy in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July 1975, an unforgettable duel that was voted the race of the 20th century.

But it was with Brigadier Gerard that Mercer will be most remembered.

Brilliantly trained by Hern, Brigadier Gerard went into the 2000 Guineas unbeaten and ready to clash with Mill Reef and My Swallow, who had dominated the juvenile division.

‘The Brigadier’ brushed them aside on the way to winning 17 of his 18 starts.

Another highlight was his association with the Queen’s Highclere, the pair winning the 1000 Guineas and French Oaks in 1974.

Mercer was replaced as Hern’s number one at the end of the 1976 season by Willie Carson – but was snapped up by Henry Cecil.

They soon cemented their partnership with Classic success on One In A Million in the 1979 1000 Guineas and with such stars as Kris and Le Moss, while other horses Mercer shone on during his career included Boldboy, Relkino and Gunner B.

He capped that year by being champion jockey.

In 1981, Mercer was replaced at Cecil’s by Lester Piggott, but then had a spell with Peter Walwyn.

He remained in demand and notably steered Time Charter to victory in the 1983 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes for Henry Candy.

Two years later, Mercer decided to call time in his native Yorkshire when winning the November Handicap at Doncaster on his final ride, Bold Rex, for John Dunlop.

Mercer was affectionately known as ‘Smokin’ Joe as he was usually captured with a pipe when not in the saddle. He was the son of a coach painter and one of nine children. Sadly, Manny was killed in an accident at Ascot in 1959.

After he stopped riding, Mercer became racing manager for the late Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum and other top owners, including Saeed Suhail, before retiring in 2006.

Mercer was married to Anne, who was the daughter of jockey Harry Carr.

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