The racing world is in mourning after the death of famous Group 1 winner Peter Mertens, aged just 58 after a long battle with cancer.
Mertens, who has raced more than 2,100 winners, including seven Group 1 races, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020 but bravely continued to defy the prognoses given by doctors before ultimately and tragically succumbing to the disease.
The man nicknamed ‘The King of Gippsland’ is survived by his wife Gulcin, six children – including his son Beau, who is also a top jockey – and three stepchildren.
Racing primarily in Victoria and South Australia, Mertens won his first Group 1 in 1999 aboard Rustic Dream in the Futurity Stakes, while he also enjoyed great success riding for legendary trainer Bart Cummings – winning the 2007 Mackinnon Stakes and 2008 Australian Cup.
The affable hoop was forced to retire in 2014 after a horror fall that left him with a broken collarbone, a fractured ankle, a collapsed lung and several weeks broken.
Peter Mertens (right), pictured winning the Australian G1 Cup with legendary manager Bart Cummings in 2008, has died aged just 58
Friends have paid tribute to the popular hoop, calling it “one of the greatest on and off the track”
Mertens had more than 2,100 winners – including seven Group 1s – in a glittering career before losing his battle with pancreatic cancer
He said of the sickening accident last year that ‘worse things can happen in life’ – but sadly they did, as he was forced to provide intense chemotherapy and daily injections afterwards only six months to live by doctors.
The determination that put him in such a good position on the track allowed him to fight off what he was told was “the worst cancer you could have”.
He also did it with humor, saying in November last year that he kept telling his family he was ‘too bad to die’ as he spoke about the promising career of her son Beau in the saddle as an enormous form of motivation.
“I’ve never done things by halves… ‘You have to stay positive and take everything you can,’ he told Racing.com last year.
“There is a lady who has similar cancer in a similar place to mine in America who has lived for 20 years. If she can do it, why can’t I?
“Plus, I want to stick around a little longer to remind Beau that I’m still the king of country cuts.”
‘My friends, my family and especially Beau are my inspiration. That’s what keeps me going. ‘He still has a lot to do, but damn it, he makes me proud.’
The popular hoop had huge success (like the G1 Mackinnon Stakes in 2007, pictured) with Sirmione, trained by Bart Cummings.
Sealed with a kiss! Mertens celebrates a 2008 Group 1 win at Flemington
As the racing community continues to crumble after the tragic loss of Dean Holland after a racing crash in March, Victorian Jockeys’ Association chief Matt Hyland led tributes to the popular Mertens.
“We are incredibly sorry to hear of Peter’s passing and send our condolences to his family, especially his son Beau. We are thinking of all of them at this particularly sad time,” he said.
“Peter was as valiant in the fight against his illness as he was on the racecourse, and he will be sadly missed by many in Victorian racing and beyond.”
The racing community has also paid tribute to a man called “one of the greatest on and off the track”.
Group 1 winning jockey and popular TV presenter Simon Marshall has written of his grief for his close friend.
“It’s hard for Peter Mertens to pass away. I’ve been blessed to be a part of Pete’s life as a close companion! Godfather to his son Zac and a willing close friend to all of his extended family…he lived a beautiful life,’ he wrote on Twitter.
Trainer Mick Price, who trained Mertens’ first Group 1 winner, said he had seen a lot of the talented jockey in his son Beau, who rode 563 winners aged just 25.
“I have very fond memories of him personally and professionally. He was a lovely man. I spent a lot of time with Peter at the start. Together we found our first Group 1 winner,” he said at Racing.com.
“I watch Beau a lot and Peter comes to mind more and more. I have a great association with Beau. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
‘One of the greatest on and off the track…lived his life to the fullest. Sending lots of love to all his family and friends. RIP Peter Mertens,” racing personality Matty Stewart commented on social media.
Mertens, pictured after winning the Australian Cup Group 1 in 2008, has also enjoyed huge success on the country lanes
After a long career that included dominance on country tracks as well as city courses, trainer Peter Gelagotis has paid tribute to a rider who has often bonded with the stable.
We are saddened to learn of the death of Peter Mertens, King of Gippsland. Rided many winners for our stable and was a very popular jockey. Condolences to Beau, his family and his many friends throughout our industry. RIP,” the Victorian coach said.
Ex-jockey Samuel Hyland also noted how he was able to have so much success in town and in the bush.
“Such sad news to hear that Peter Mertens has passed away, a tough competitor to compete against and who was King of Gippsland when I started. He has continued to be successful on the big stage, a great guy and I’m so happy to have been able to have a beer with him at The Emerald recently,’ Hyland wrote on Twitter.
Vale, Peter Mertens.
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