Eddery still fuelled by hunger for the title

Grim dieting regime is testimony to top rider's dedication in race to be champion Flat jockey despite advancing years
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The Independent Online

Past the electronic gates, there are great chunks of Buckinghamshire penned inside rails, stable blocks and a sprawling house at the bottom of the drive. It is all a considerable trophy, and one which the owner, Pat Eddery, likes to buff himself.

Past the electronic gates, there are great chunks of Buckinghamshire penned inside rails, stable blocks and a sprawling house at the bottom of the drive. It is all a considerable trophy, and one which the owner, Pat Eddery, likes to buff himself.

Pat flicks a cigarette butt away and leads you into the conservatory at Musk Hill Farm, where the floral seats appear showroom fresh. But then they probably do not get used much. When Eddery puts his bottom down he likes it to be on a saddle.

"I wouldn't be sitting here having a chat normally," he says. "When you go I'll be out there working with Ron. We've got 3,000 bales of hay in the last few days and we've got to get them in the barn." This says much about Patrick James John Eddery.

The Irishman has partnered more Pattern-race winners than any man in British history. He lies around 200 successes away from Lester Piggott's career total of 4,493 winners and now, at the age of 48, a 12th championship shimmers before him.

Much may have changed since the wee boy partnered Alvaro to victory at Epsom in April, 1969, the days when he used to ride against Joe Mercer, Jimmy Lindley and Yves St Martin, but Eddery himself hasaltered little. He still believes in the yeoman virtues of persistence and punctuality. For a leading sportsman, he is disappointingly lacking in flash.

"He was a boy wonder and he's still going strong," Willie Carson said at Ascot on Saturday. "With him, it's all to do with hard work, putting your head down and getting on with the job. That's his secret. Piggott and Eddery are totally different jockeys, but they did have the same things in determination and dedication.

"It's helped Pat that he's the sort of guy who doesn't dwell on things. You get someone like FrankieDettori, who's up one minute and he's away down the next, great swings of mood. And if you have those very high highs then you also get the very low lows. Pat doesn't do that.

"He is very much a person who hides his feelings. He's very quiet, and he takes things the same whether it's a high or a low. He puts the bad days, and the good days, behind him and just carries on as he's always done.

"Of course, he feels things internally, but he'll never let it show. He's very level-headed and he doesn't get excited. I call him a true sportsman."

Eddery works and fights because that is all he has ever known. The product of a large Dublin family, he was apprenticed to Seamus McGrath from the age of 13 and then transferred his indentures to Frenchie Nicholson, David Nicholson's father and a maker of jockeys in the Cotswolds. He was one of the frogspawn of apprentices that enter racing, very few of whom transform into the prince. "They say one in a thousand makes it, makes it to the top," he says rather proudly.

"All I've wanted to do all my life is ride horses and be a jockey. The wealth side has just come along as I've done well. It doesn't make you a different person, having money, you know. I just enjoy riding horses, meeting the boys every day andhaving a bit of fun."

There must, however, be fun in the rewards, and, even back in 1994, Business-Age magazine madeEddery the 10th richest sportsman in Britain with £7.25m. It must also be a pleasure to be physicallycorrect at 48, ageing restricted to the salt and pepper colouring of your hair.

The Faustian compromise is Eddery's diet. He can still ride at 8st 4lb. Indeed, he has never been heavier than 8st 8lb in his life. Not for Eddery the off-season journey that some of his colleagues take from Laurel to Hardy and back again. "It's hard to get used to the fasting when you've been used to your Mum's cooking," he says. "All of a sudden, you can't eat, and the more you can't the more you want to. I didn't control my weight properly until I was about 25, until I knew my body."

Eddery may know his body now but he cannot be great friends with it. His daily intake would hardly fuel a fieldmouse up a stem of wheat. "If I'm riding I don't have breakfast," the jockey says. "Late afternoon, after three or four rides, I might have a sandwich and, during the day, I might have four or five cups of tea. In the evenings, I mostly have fish. A bit of grilled fish and a couple of new potatoes. I'm still working hard at it, but I don't moan about it because it's the life I've chosen.

"In the winter I keep myself fit on the farm. And when we were in Marbella I did a lot of walking and playing tennis with the kids. I couldn't bear to lie on a beach."

Eddery has been afforded such Continental luxury recently because he lies professionally fallow in the middle of a 19-day suspension, much of it the result of whip bans. He returns at Goodwood on Friday, and he will return the same man. Eddery still hurts from the punishment he was given for his effort on Kalanisi in the Eclipse Stakes, a race in which his fellow jockey George Duffield was also reprimanded. "Both horses weren't marked after the race," Eddery says. "It was an exciting race which the racing public seemed to enjoy, but I thought it was ruined by knocking back two jockeys for their use of the whip. I felt so hard done by.

"If a a horse is running for you and he's giving more and more as you use the whip there's no need to not keep flicking him. You keep going. If we lose that we lose the will to win.

"There's a lot of hype before a Group One, you're usually riding for a big owner and a big trainer and you get a lot of press. When you get into that firing line all you're thinking about is winning that race. There's no time once you're out there, no time to think. Short-heads can make a hell of a difference, because these top horses are going to be syndicated to stud for millions, and I haven't met a jockey who has told me he has counted how many times he has used the whip. You've no time to count."

There is, however, some counting in racing and Eddery is now at an age when any mistake is put down to the passing of the years. "If I do something wrong, a guy of my age, some will say I've gone as soon as they have lost their money," Eddery says. "But if you're willing to gamble then you should be willing to lose. People can say what they like. It doesn't bother me. You've got to take these things like a man.

"Mine is a busy life. It's a good life. Travelling round, meeting different people every day and getting on nice horses. I like working every day. And riding winners. If you don't ride a winner it's heartbreaking. I'm not going to go on if I'm not riding winners, but, as long as things are going well and I'm enjoying it, I'll keep going. Once your standard goes down you soon get noticed."

Around 100 trainers already this season have noticed that Pat Eddery has something left to offer racing and chosen to put him on their horses. There will almost certainly be a few more before this great season, a Tour de France with breathing vehicles, ends on 4 November. "I'm delighted to be in the running," Eddery says, "and, if it doesn't come off, it won't be for the want of trying."

With that, he is out of his seat. As you leave the back door, Pat is quickly out at the front and off into a barn. He waves as you drive off and then strides off into the distance, a huge pair of shears in his hand.