Ajdal (seen winning the July Cup) landed the Dewhurst Stakes in 1986 Image by www.cranhamphoto.com

Ajdal seen winning the 1987 July Cup with Walter Swinburn
Image by www.cranhamphoto.com

Leading French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek described three-time Derby winner Walter Swinburn as “one of the greatest ever jockeys” following his death at the age of 55.

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.

The Chantilly handler said: “When I found out about the news of Walter dying, I was very, very sad.

“We had some glorious times together and won a lot of big races with horses like Hatoof.

“He was such a talented rider. He had really soft hands and had fantastic judgement during races.

“He was also a great horseman and seemed to know exactly what he was doing all the time.

“In my opinion, I think he was one of the greatest ever jockeys.”

Swinburn was one of the most renowned riders of his generation and will forever be inextricably linked with the brilliant Shergar.

Nicknamed the ‘Choirboy’, he partnered the Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt to glory in the 1981 Derby at the age of 19, one of three winners for Swinburn in the Epsom Classic alongside Shahrastani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995).

Many other big-race successes around the world adorned his CV before his retirement from the saddle in 2000.

Head-Maarek added: “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.”

Sir Michael Stoute enjoyed a long and hugely successful association with Swinburn and added his own tribute:

He had the right temperament for the big days and he thrived on them. He also had great positional sense in a race which stood him in good stead. 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.

“I think Pilsudski winning at the Breeders Cup was also up there as it was our first win at Breeders’ Cup. He’ll be much missed.”