Pat Eddery: Ireland’s finest carved an unforgettable racing legacy
Eddery’s consistency and flashes of instinctive inspiration made him a coveted talent
Pat Eddery was one of the world’s great riders and perhaps Ireland’s finest flat-race jockey of all. He was unquestionably the most successful.
Only Gordon Richards has ridden more winners in British racing history. Eddery, who died aged 63 after a lengthy illness, rode 4,632 winners in Britain and many more worldwide, most notably a record-equalling four victories in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Eddery was still a teenager when leaving Ireland in the 1960s to seek opportunities in Britain, but had to overcome considerable obstacles of his own.
If there was a tradition of Irish riders regularly featuring at the top of the National Hunt tree in Britain, it was different on the flat.
When Eddery rode his first winner - Alvaro at Epsom in 1969 - it was Englishman Lester Piggott who was the undisputed King of the jockeys’ room. Australians such as Scobie Breasley were often his biggest rivals.
In later years, Irish accents came to dominate Britain’s weighrooms but when Eddery won the first of his 11 jockey’s championships in 1974, it wasn’t just that he was the youngest champion up to that point which was notable.
Piggott’s long shadow continued to dominate public attention through the following decade but he was part of a vintage crop of elite riders. Eddery, the Scot Willie Carson, and later American Steve Cauthen were all great champions in their own right.
In 1987 Eddery and Cauthen’s championship battle famously went down to the final day with the exhausted American eventually emerging best although resolving never to try for the title again.
Eddery won for the following four years.
It was such consistency, allied to frequent flashes of instinctive inspiration in the big races, which made Eddery such a coveted talent.
In 1980 he replaced Piggott as Vincent O’Brien’s jockey and enjoyed six notably successful years to the legendary trainer before becoming retained rider to the Saudi owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah.
It was in Abdullah’s colours that Eddery famously won the 1986 Arc on Dancing Brave, maybe the best horse he ever rode although the list of great equine talents the Irishman rode is enviably long.
They include the Epsom Derby winners Grundy and Golden Fleece, as well as Pebbles, Zafonic and Sadler’s Wells who went on to become one of the most successful stallions in bloodstock history at Coolmore Stud.
It was Sadler’s Wells’ 1984 classic contemporary, El Gran Senor, who left Eddery with his greatest racing regret.
The unbeaten Vincent O’Brien trained star started an odds-on favourite for the Epsom Derby and looked a sure winner when cruising to the lead two furlongs out. However he was run down in the final strides by Secreto, trained by O’Brien’s son, David.
Eddery later blamed himself for hitting the front too soon on the colt who afterwards won the Irish Derby.
It suited the quietly unfussy Eddery that he never held the public fascination Piggott did. But he wound up riding more winners than the Englishman and winning the same number of British championship. In 1982, while riding for O’Brien, he even won an Irish title too, just as his father Jimmy did twice in 1954-55.
Eddery was immediately identifiable to generations of racing fans, his famous ‘bounce-in-the-saddle’ finishing style as distinctive as it was effective and all but impossible to replicate.
The style reflected something of the man, a quiet pioneer who quietly but resolutely carved out his own unforgettable racing legacy.