Yesterday brought the sad news of the death of Patrick James John Eddery at the age of 63.
Born in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland on 18 March 1952, Pat Eddery became one of the greatest flat racing jockeys of all time. In a riding career that spanned 36 years, he became champion jockey 11 times and won every ‘Classic’ in both England and Ireland.
Eddery also found success overseas with major victories in France, America, Italy and Japan. He rode some of the sport’s greatest racehorses, winning the Derby on Grundy and Golden Fleece, the 2,000 Guineas on El Gran Senor and Zafonic, and of course the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Dancing Brave.
Born to ride, his father Jimmy had won the Irish Derby in 1955, and Pat became an apprentice jockey to Seamus McGrath in Ireland back in 1966. His first competitive ride came in 1967, and the same year he was to move to England becoming apprentice to Frenchie Nicholson. In 1971 he won the title of Champion Apprentice Jockey.
He won his first jockey’s title in 1974 and the following year won his first Epsom Derby on Grundy. He formed a stunning partnership with Peter Walwyn’s powerful colt, winning eight times in 11 career starts. As a two-year-old Eddery rode him to victories in the Champagne Stakes and the Dewhurst. He met with defeat in the 2,000 Guineas but made amends in the Irish 2,000 Guineas before attention turned to the Derby. At Epsom he stormed to the front over a furlong out under a stylish drive from Eddery. The result was never in doubt.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes proved to be Grundy’s most memorable performance. In a race that for many is seen as one of the all-time greats, Eddery and his Derby winner met Bustino, the winner of the previous season’s St Leger. Joe Mercer rode an aggressive race, sending Bustino to the front before turning for home. Eddery was quick to react and a thrilling battle ensued.
Grundy got on top late on under a power-packed ride. The course record was shattered, as were the two protagonists. Walwyn’s charge ran just once more before being retired to stud. Bustino never raced again.
If his partnership with Grundy was special, many would view his rides on Dancing Brave to be his most thrilling. Ridden earlier in his career by Greville Starkey, the colt had missed out in the Derby by a whisker before a stunning victory in the Eclipse. When Starkey was unable to ride in the King George, Pat Eddery stepped in. He reversed the Derby form with Shahrastani in a thrilling finish and Eddery was retained for the remainder of the season.
It was the colt’s final European appearance that defined Pat Eddery’s career. In one of the strongest fields ever assembled the jockey swooped late and wide to win in thrilling style. Brough Scott writing in the Racing Post commented on Eddery’s memorable ride, saying: “He produced the finest high pressure waiting race ride I have ever seen when he actually put Dancing Brave back in behind the field before pulling out wide to mow down a string of Classic winners in the unforgettable Arc de Triomphe of 1986.”
Others, far better qualified than me, have paid tribute to the great jockey over the past 24 hours. Lester Piggott spoke of his old rival, saying: “Pat was as fierce an opponent on the racecourse as he was a loyal and dear friend off it. He was a natural horseman. He exuded class and always knew what to do in a race. He was a huge personality in the weighing room, and wasn't slow to keep us all grounded with his wit and sense of humour. He will be sorely missed.”
Another who fought many a battle with Eddery during his illustrious career was Willie Carson. He said: “It's a very sad loss. He was a huge part of my life because we were together and friends for a very long time. An absolute gentleman, one of the greatest jockeys ever to ride a horse and you could go on forever about all the great horses he rode.”
Trainer John Dunlop described Pat Eddery as a ‘delightful man’. He added: “Pat rode his first winner for me in 1973 at Bath and in all had nearly 400 winners for me. I was lucky to be training in a vintage era of jockeys and the fact Pat rode for me on and off for 30 years tells you everything. He was a delightful man to spend time with, he had huge success but was great company at the same time. Above all, he just worked harder than the others I think.”
Clive Brittain trained Pebbles and used Eddery when he was an up-and-coming apprentice. “It's a sorry day. He was a great friend and an integral part of my success at Carlburg. He was at the top of the tree for so long, but he was a green kid when I first started using him. You always got 100 per cent from Pat, be it in a Classic or a Brighton seller. I never used to discuss tactics with him really and I certainly didn't with Pebbles. She was drawn 14 at the Breeders' Cup and it was all people were talking about. Pat just said 'it's a race, the best horse will win' and she did. He never panicked and gave her a brilliant ride. He was just so confident in everything he did."
Guy Harwood trained Dancing Brave, and believes Eddery was at the peak of his powers when he won the Arc. “Clearly that was a very exciting day when he won the Arc de Triomphe. It was a fantastic ride. It was Pat at his very best and probably one of his great rides, amongst many. Pat knew how to use the speed Dancing Brave had and the best way in the Arc was to come from behind. He had tremendous natural talent.”