Tuesday 27 September 2016

"One of the greatest Irish Sports people of all time" - Richie Forristal's tribute to Pat Eddery

Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30

Jockey Pat Eddery, who died yesterday at the aged of 63. was one of the greatest Irish sports people of all time
Jockey Pat Eddery, who died yesterday at the aged of 63. was one of the greatest Irish sports people of all time

Pat Eddery, who died yesterday after a short illness, wasn't just one of the greatest Flat jockeys of all time - he was one of the greatest Irish sports people of all time.

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Born in 1952 in Blackrock, Co Dublin, before the family later moved to Newbridge, Co Kildare, Eddery was a giant of the weigh-room during a golden era for Flat jockeys and at a time when racing permeated the consciousness of everyday life in a way that it no longer does.

Lester Piggott, whom Eddery's father Jimmy - himself a dual champion in Ireland in 1954 and 1955 - had ridden alongside, was box office in the 1960s. But then along came Willie Carson, Eddery and Steve Cauthen.

An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman and an American, they dominated the Flat scene for 30 years. Eddery, in particular, became an enduring colossus to rival Piggott, emulating the legendary Long Fellow's 11 titles and finishing with a tally of 4,632 wins that is topped only by Sir Gordon Richards.

Legendary Ballydoyle maestro, the late Vincent O’Brien, discusses tactics with Pat Eddery at the Phoenix Park in 1986
Legendary Ballydoyle maestro, the late Vincent O’Brien, discusses tactics with Pat Eddery at the Phoenix Park in 1986

His legacy is stunning. In 1974, he became the first Irish jockey to be crowned champion in Britain. Only three others, Kieren Fallon, Jamie Spencer and Richard Hughes, have topped the pile - an aggregate 11 times.

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Mick Kinane would break the mould by commanding international acclaim and respect as an Irish Flat jockey of exceptional calibre operating out of Ireland. Previously, they had to cross the water to be recognised internationally, and Eddery set the template.

He accrued 29 centuries, 74 Royal Ascot winners, 14 British Classics, nine English, French and Irish Derbys and four Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes. The Arc is the most prestigious open Group One in the world, and no jockey has won it more times than Eddery.

Known within the confines of the weigh room simply as "God", Eddery - who struggled to emulate his riding feats during a sometimes difficult stint as a trainer in Newmarket - succeeded Piggott at Ballydoyle. He began his tenure with "MV" in 1981 and won his only Irish title the following year.

As Arab money began to filter into the Flat game, a contract with Khalid Abdullah reported to be in the region of £2m ended his tenure with Vincent O'Brien. In 1986 that constituted a mega-bucks signing across all sports. Like Piggott, Eddery was an inherently shy individual who preferred to let his riding do the talking, albeit he was far more humble. Gifted with a silky pair of hands, he was unmistakably strong and possessed the icy big-race calm that the very best riders exhibit as a defining trait. More than anything, he had an irascible will to win.

1 July 2000; King's Best with Pat Eddery up, horse racing. Picture credit; Damien Eagers/SPORTSFILE
1 July 2000; King's Best with Pat Eddery up, horse racing. Picture credit; Damien Eagers/SPORTSFILE

His unique bumping rhythm in a finish would surge to an irresistible crescendo. It was a bouncing style that could only be described as unconventional, though there was a hint of Eddery about Fallon, who would take over from him as Henry Cecil's stable jockey in 1997.

Every racing fan has their favourite Eddery moment. For most, it will be Dancing Brave's spellbinding Arc triumph in 1986. He produced an utter masterclass at Longchamp, bringing the Guineas winner wide from deep in the field to surge home late. It was the type of momentum-filled thrust with which he was synonymous.

Others will recall his heroics on Grundy, the horse that embellished his pre-Ballydoyle days with Peter Walwyn. After an epic King George duel with Bustino, they emerged triumphant in an Ascot event that frequently tops all-time greatest races polls. I fondly recall watching him ease Bosra Sham to Fillies' Mile success at Ascot in September 1995. Smitten by Cecil's filly and Eddery's assured authority, I promptly backed her at odds of 7/2 for the following year's 1,000 Guineas. She would duly prevail, returning at odds-on and provoking a smug sense of ante-post shrewdness that has since remained largely alien.

There were high-profile setbacks, too, most famously El Gran Senor's loss to Secreto in the Epsom Derby.

22 May 1999; Eastern Purple, with Frankie Dettori up, on his way to winning The Weatherby Ireland Greenlands Stakes from Gaelic Storn (not in picture) and One Won One, Pat Eddery, (yelloy star cap). Curragh Races, Co. Kildare. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
22 May 1999; Eastern Purple, with Frankie Dettori up, on his way to winning The Weatherby Ireland Greenlands Stakes from Gaelic Storn (not in picture) and One Won One, Pat Eddery, (yelloy star cap). Curragh Races, Co. Kildare. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

"El Gran Senor didn't stay in the final furlong when Secreto came at him," Eddery explained of the inexplicable defeat. "If you don't stay, you don't win."

There was also a contentious 1978 Gold Cup reversal on Buckskin that incurred the wrath of the horse's owner, Daniel Wildenstein. He was "too weak" and "not man enough", Wildenstein fumed of the champion jockey. In those days, though, trainers prioritised loyalty to their jockeys, and Buckskin left Walwyn's yard after the trainer stood by his man.

Eddery's successes aboard O'Brien-trained heroes like Golden Fleece, El Gran Senor and Sadler's Wells are the stuff of folklore. Moreover, such was his longevity that, in the year of his retirement at 51 years of age in 2003, he also rode in the Derby for O'Brien's successor and namesake, Aidan.

On his 30th outing in the race, he went gallingly close to a glorious swansong, running Kris Kin to a length on O'Brien's outsider, The Great Gatsby, after a bold front-running steer. At his legendary peak, Eddery was a tactical genius who inspired generations of wannabe jockeys.

At a soggy Ascot in October 1998, Fletcher carried this correspondent to his sole victory on the Flat. As I returned to the changing room, Eddery passed by as he went to weigh out for the next race.

"Well done, kid," he mumbled quietly. It was a routine gesture from an iconic figure that will live long in the memory, and it prompted a wistful moment yesterday when Cauthen paid tribute to his old colleague.

"He was the kind of guy who was the first to come and say, 'Well done'," the American lamented of his old colleague. It was a simple line that said as much about Eddery the man as it did about Eddery the jockey. A champion in the very best sense of the word.

Irish Independent

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