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Stunned Francome pays tribute as great Swinburn dies at 55

By Chris Stocks

Walter Swinburn, one of the most renowned jockeys of his generation and rider of the brilliant Shergar, has died aged 55.

Nicknamed the 'Choirboy', Swinburn partnered Shergar to glory in the 1981 Derby at the age of 19, one of three winners for him in the Epsom Classic alongside Shahrastani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995).

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

Swinburn took over the training licence from his father-in-law Peter Harris in November 2004, sending out over 260 winners from his Hertfordshire base before handing in his licence at the end of October 2011, citing financial reasons.

Harris confirmed the shock news. He said: "I've been in Scotland all day and got home this evening and all I know is that he has died. I don't know any more details at the moment."

After his riding days were over, Swinburn enjoyed a successful period as part of the Channel 4 Racing team, working with former National Hunt great John Francome among others.

Francome said: "I spoke to him a couple of months ago and he seemed in really good form. It's absolutely shocking he should die aged 55. No age at all.

"He was an absolutely gifted rider, you never saw any horse pulling with him or having their head in the air.

"He was a little bit of a troubled soul in some ways, he had weight problems which probably affected him a lot more than other people, but that seemed to be a long time ago and he seemed to all intents and purposes fine.

"He could ride a race, he had a really good feel for what was going on underneath him. He must have been a fantastic jockey to have riding for you.

"He'd give great feedback and come back in and tell you everything you needed to know. He probably knew everything he needed to know by the time he got down to the start.

"He was a very sensitive person, both on and off a horse."

Swinburn suffered a terrible fall at Sha Tin in February 1996 when his mount Liffey River crashed through the rails and was in intensive care for a week with head and chest injuries.

He returned to win on his first ride back on Talathath at Windsor just six months later.

Francome added: "It was a shocking fall, and he made an amazing comeback - but he was happiest on a horse.

"He had a good smile, great sense of humour, fabulous parents - just a really nice family and I'm devastated for them."

Of Swinburn winning the Derby so young, Francome said: "It was extraordinary, like winning the Champions League in your first season playing football. He used to take things in his stride. He was just a good lad."

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