Pat Eddery: A special talent who was born to ride

Pat Eddery was undoubtedly one of the greatest jockeys to grace the 20th century and beyond.
Pat Eddery: A special talent who was born to ride

Only Gordon Richards rode more winners and was champion more times than Eddery, who had a colossal 4,632 victories in the UK and 11 titles, the same as Lester Piggott.

Dubbed a boy wonder because of his natural talent, Eddery rode his first winner in 1969 and was still one of the best in the business when he called it a day in 2003.

The 36 years dedicated to the saddle proved hard to replace and even the next best thing, training horses just was not the same for Eddery. He had been born to ride.

Born in Newbridge, in County Kildare, he was the fifth of 12 children of Jimmy and Josephine Eddery.

Racing was in the blood. Eddery’s father was a good jockey, finishing second in the 1955 Derby on Panaslipper, before winning the Irish Derby on the same horse, while his maternal grandfather, Jack Moylan, was also a leading rider in Ireland.

At the age of eight, Eddery started riding out at Seamus McGrath’s stables near Leopardstown before being formally apprenticed there on his 14th birthday.

Surprisingly, he was out of luck until moving to England to complete his apprenticeship with Frenchie Nicholson, the father of David Nicholson, himself a top jumps jockey and trainer in his time.

The academy was second to none and produced many top jockeys, with Eddery the best.

Champion apprentice in 1971, he became number one rider to Peter Walwyn’s powerful stable in 1973 and the following year he was champion jockey for the first time.

The first of his three Derby wins soon followed as he guided Walwyn’s Grundy to a famous victory at Epsom in 1975 before beating Bustino in the race of the century that was the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Eddery went on to take the Epsom blue riband again on Golden Fleece in 1982 and on Quest For Fame eight years later.

In 1981 he became retained jockey to top owner Robert Sangster and they teamed up to enjoy many big-race successes with the likes of El Gran Senor, Caerleon and Sadler’s Wells as well as Golden Fleece, all of whom were trained at Ballydoyle in Ireland by Vincent O’Brien.

He also partnered Sangster’s Detroit to victory in the 1980 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the first of a record-equalling four triumphs in the Longchamp spectacular.

In 1986 he rode the brilliant Dancing Brave — the best horse he ever sat on — to victory in the King George and the Arc, and the following year the colt’s owner Khalid Abdullah snapped up Eddery to ride his horses.

More success followed on such notable performers as Commander In Chief, Warning and Zafonic.

Though his association with Abdullah ended in 1994, Eddery continued to mount up the winners.

He reached a notable landmark in the 1997 St Leger, when his success on the John Dunlop-trained Silver Patriarch was his 4,000th in Britain.

Just days after his famous triumph at Doncaster he had to stop riding for the rest of the season due to a severe back problem which needed surgery.

He has also proved his worth on the other side of the Atlantic with Breeders’ Cup wins on Pebbles in the 1985 Turf and Sheikh Albadou in the Sprint in 1991 and Tolomeo in the 1983 Arlington Million.

Eddery’s best season numerically came in 1990 when he partnered 209 winners and his last championship was in 1996. Punters loved him and were sorry to see him retire from the saddle.

Though his training career did not prove as fruitful, he did enjoy Group One glory with Hearts Of Fire in the Gran Criterium at San Siro in 2009.

Eddery married Carolyn Mercer, the daughter of the Flat jockey Manny Mercer and niece of champion jockey Joe Mercer, in 1978. They divorced in 2009. He is survived by their two daughters, Nichola, an equestrian artist, and Natasha, and a son, Harry.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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