Pat Eddery dies aged 63: A great jockey with an individual style

Flower on a grave

Pat Eddery carved out one of the great careers in race-riding through the use of one of the most unusual styles in the saddle that has been seen in modern times.

The Irishman, who has died aged 63 following a long illness, was instantly recognisable to generations of punters through his habit of bouncing in the saddle in a close finish as a means of driving his mount forwards.

It was not exactly pretty. Sometimes, combined with an upright posture, it bordered on ungainly and it was certainly not how he was taught to do the job. His tutor when he arrived in England at the age of 14 was the trainer Frenchie Nicholson, who took understandable pride in the string of talented jockeys he mentored through the early stages of their careers, most of them developing a look that was refined, quiet and very effective.

Eddery followed the template through his early years but in the manner of someone who is unusually good at their work and skilled in a way that seems innate, he developed a variation that suited him perfectly well, even if it would never be found in a textbook. Nicholson is said to have wished that his star apprentice had not departed from his initial guidance to such an extent, though he also acknowledged that of all the fine riders to have passed through his yard, Eddery was from an early stage the one who stood out for being “in total harmony” with his mounts.

He was also one of the most carefree. There are jockeys on whom criticism leaves no mark because they are protected by a well-developed ego but that was not Eddery’s case, several of those paying tribute on Tuesday emphasising that success did not go to his head. But nor did he carry the opinions of others as a burden and it really seems not to have mattered to him that others sometimes found his method unattractive.

It worked to the tune of more than 4,600 winners in Britain, where only Sir Gordon Richards has amassed a better career tally. Eddery was also an international pioneer, riding Jupiter Island to win the Japan Cup and Pebbles to win at the Breeders’ Cup, both of which broke new ground for British-based horses.

He was aboard Tolomeo, the first British winner of the Arlington Million in 1983 and wildly underestimated by Chicago’s punters, who allowed one of the best milers in Europe to start at odds of 38-1. It appears that Eddery’s talents were also underestimated, even in victory.

A British journalist present that day recalls one of the local analysts responding to the jockey’s bounce-bounce routine with the words “Ride him, cowboy!”

In defiance of any doubters, Eddery’s ability to win major races was at its peak through the 80s. In 1984, he landed the 2,000 Guineas and the Irish Derby on one of the best he ever rode, El Gran Senor, though there was heartbreak at Epsom when he was somehow outfought by the outsider Secreto.

Criticised by some for hitting the front too soon that day on a possible non-stayer, Eddery was determined to do no such thing two years later on Dancing Brave in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. At the turn for home, the pair had 12 of their 14 rivals in front of them and still Eddery did not make an immediate move.

Showing enormous faith in the ability of his horse, he delivered one of the great hold-up rides and allowed Dancing Brave to deploy the turn of foot that etched his victory forever in the minds of every witness. However much one may wish, as an interested spectator, that Flat jockeys did not place such a high value on leaving their attack until the last possible second, there is no question that Eddery delivered a ride for all fans of the sport to treasure and it must have required astonishing coolness of head.

Even late in his career there were remarkable moments, like the nail-bitingly late challenge on Celeric to win the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 1997. Legged up on a 20-1 shot for his final Derby in 2003, he somehow pinched a two-length lead on The Great Gatsby with just a furlong to go, only to be run down close home by Kieren Fallon on Kris Kin.

Eddery maintained, even as he announced his retirement, that he would never train, yet he began doing exactly that just two years later, possibly for want of something else to occupy the long hours. There were high points, notably a Group One success in October 2009 with a two-year-old that had been sharp enough to win on its debut all the way back in March.

But his yard near Aylesbury does not appear to have been a consistently happy place. His divorce in 2008 was followed two years later by a falling out with his two brothers which became messily public when one sued him, unsuccessfully, for unfair dismissal. The stable’s tally of winners and strike-rate has been in decline ever since.

Great Flat jockeys hardly ever make a similar impact on the training profession but his experience seems to reinforce a longstanding impression that Eddery, such a natural in the saddle, was less secure out of it. It is his genius for race-riding that will be remembered, thanks in part to the unorthodox style. Mulling that over, his weighing room rival Michael Hills said: “Horses just loved to run for him. They used to stick their heads out for him and all they wanted to do was run as fast as they can.”

Powered by article was written by Chris Cook, for The Guardian on Tuesday 10th November 2015 16.57 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010