Something will be wrong with Flat racing next season. Something will be missing. No longer will be there be one of the brilliant constants of the turf season. No longer will there be Pat Eddery.
It seems almost unreal, and a worry for those of us who judge our own ageing by the progress of others, that the 11-times champion jockey will retire at the end of this campaign.
Pat Eddery may be 51, but he remains trim and sprite. While the blue eyes may not be as piercing as ever and the hair grey, he is still a ferociously fit man for his age. Surely he could have carried on. Yet Pat realised these past few months that not only had anno Domini drawn level with him, it also had a double handful. It was time to go.
The only bit of business Eddery leaves unresolved is Sir Gordon Richards's total of 4,870 winners. His accumulation of 4,585 successes sounds close. But not close enough. "I would have had to go for four or five years to get to Sir Gordon's record," Eddery said yesterday. "That would have been too much.
"It's difficult to get on the good horses. Godolphin and O'Brien have got their own jockeys. I'm 51 so the good horses aren't coming. I'll miss the riding for sure. There's always something new that happens when you're riding horses."
Yet Pat Eddery does not now, or ever, get flustered. Not by horses, not be the enormity of his own achievements. Along the way, or perhaps it was innate, Eddery has managed to remove the emotion from riding racehorses. This was what probably made him a great man on the greatest of days.
As the recordings of Dancing Brave and Grundy were played back yesterday at an official reception at Windsor racecourse there was not even a flicker from the Irishman. Riding may have been glamorous to others, but for Eddery it was still always a job. It was the sanguine approach we have seen in other great number compilers, in Piggott and McCoy, maybe the only approach to endure in this game.
Grundy seems a lifetime away and it almost is. That July day in 1975 was when Eddery was marching out with Piggott, Carson, Mercer and Saint-Martin, all long-gone heroes. The jockey remembers the chestnut, but only casually, like all the other great ones.
"The best Derby ride I ever had was Golden Fleece," he said. "It was fantastic the way he came from so far off the pace. Dancing Brave was the same at Longchamp. Then there was Zafonic and the fillies, Pebbles and Bosra Sham. It's all been my life for 37 years."
Young Pat's racing life started at the stables and apprentice academy of Frenchie Nicholson, where he earned 10 bob a week for seven days hard graft. He was told one in a thousand made it from this regime. So he knuckled down to give himself the best shot. It has been a metaphor for the man's career.
"There has never been a more professional jockey," Ray Cochrane, a former colleague and Derby-winning jockey, said yesterday. "The way he conducts himself, the way he watches his weight. I've never seen him finish a sandwich, or a whole meal or a cup of tea. And I've never seen him lose his temper."
All his weighing-room colleagues truly admire Eddery. Not just for his longevity and brilliance, but largely for his naked professionalism. He has not abused his gift.
Eddery has beaten Lester Piggott in numbers, equalled him in championships, and that means a lot. It may be gone now, but he was the stoney-faced champion by which all were measured until recently. In the previous reigns, Piggott was king. His motto was to win, say nothing, and get out of there. It is a manner which Eddery has acquired himself.
"When he was in his prime, Piggott was the best I ever saw," Eddery said. "Socially, these days, he is good fun. But when he was riding he was tough."
Eddery, subconsciously or not, modelled himself on Piggott's virtues in and out of the saddle. His assessment of his own strengths is not a triumph of over-elaboration. "Getting horses to relax," he said. "Getting them past the winning post in front. Horses and racing have been great for me, every minute of my life."
It is the committed reason also why trainers have not been slow to employ him. "I'm very sad, because I still thought he had a chance of beating Sir Gordon's all-time record for number of winners," John Dunlop said yesterday, "but I suppose he felt the winners were drying up slightly compared to the past. But he's had a wonderful innings.
"He rode his first winner for me 30 years ago this year - September 1973 at Bath.
"The sad thing was that he missed out on his hundred last year [when he ended the season on 99]. He's been the same man with the same wonderful manners and wonderful enthusiasm over all those years. He's never changed one iota and was the most charming man to work for you and to work with. He'll be sadly, sadly missed by us all."
There are further overpowering numbers. Eddery rode 74 Royal Ascot winners, 465 European Pattern successes, 29 centuries, and, possibly most impressive of all, he rode at 8st 3lb this season, his lightest for many years.
At least he has a mechanism in place for retirement. Jockeys of Eddery's calibre are never impoverished, but at least he has some sort of career path mapped out. Training, he said, had never been an option, but he is to manage syndicated horses under the banner of Pat Eddery Racing, utilising the blue and green colours, which, under the Robert Sangster pattern, were so good to him while he was, and still is, racing.
And, if this all fails, there is always the promise of once again seeing the distinctive bouncing style coming back for another hurrah. Pat Eddery would not be the first gifted veteran to return to the saddle.
A LIFETIME AT THE RACES: KEY MOMENTS IN PAT EDDERY'S RIDING CAREER
Bred to be a jockey as his father, Jimmy, won an Irish Derby. A dazzling talent from the start and became the champion apprentice aged 19
By 1982 Eddery was in demand and had switched from the Peter Walwyn stable to ride for Vincent O'Brien. Golden Fleece's Derby was a pinnacle
THE RACE OF THE CENTURY: GRUNDY BEATS BUSTINO AT ASCOT
Grundy was the first of Eddery's champions, winning the 1975 Derby and then responding to the Irishman's powerful driving to beat the previous year's St Leger winner, Bustino, in the King George at Ascot. The race broke both their hearts
HIS FINEST HOUR: DANCING BRAVE WINS THE ARC
Having gained the ride on Dancing Brave after Greville Starkey's failure on the colt in the 1986 Derby, Eddery demonstrated just why the change was worth it. With amazing cool, he delayed his challenge on Dancing Brave (No12) until well into the Longchamp straight, giving first run to one of the finest Arc fields ever assembled, to sweep past with contemptuous ease. It heralded seven years of success in the colours of the colt's owner, Khalid Abdullah
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: EL GRAN SENOR LOSES THE DERBY
El Gran Senor was ranked among the greatest milers, but could he stretch his stamina to the mile and a half of the Derby? No one was sure, including Eddery, who failed to push his mount clear and was caught by Secreto near the line. "Missing me?" was the post-race quip from Eddery's Ballydoyle predecessor to the colt's owner, Robert Sangster
KEY FACTS AND FIGURES
Patrick James John Eddery
Born: 18 March, 1952 at Newbridge, Co Kildare
Married: 13 November, 1978 to Carolyn, daughter of the late jockey Manny Mercer. Three children - Nichola, Natasha and Harry.
Apprenticeship: Seamus McGrath 1966-67. Frenchie Nicholson 1967-72. Champion apprentice 1971
1973-80 Peter Walwyn 1981-86 Robert Sangster 1987-94 Khalid Abdullah 1995- Freelance
First ride in Britain: Dido's Dowry, 6th at Liverpool, 30 March, 1968
First winner: Alvaro, Epsom, 24 April, 1969
First big winner: Sky Rocket (1969 Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot).
Champion Jockey: 11 times. 1974 to 1977, 1986, 1988 to 1991, 1993, 1996 (also champion in Ireland in 1982).
100 winners in a season: Every year from 1973 to 2001 except 1982. Rode 99 winners in 2002
200 winners in a season: 1990
Best season: 209 wins in 1990.
BRITISH CLASSIC WINNERS:
1,000 Guineas: Bosra Sham 1996.
2,000 Guineas: Lomond 1983, El Gran Senor 1984, Zafonic 1993.
Derby: Grundy 1975, Golden Fleece 1982, Quest For Fame 1990.
Oaks: Polygamy 1974, Scintillate 1979, Lady Carla 1996.
St Leger: Moon Madness 1986, Toulon 1991, Moonax 1994, Silver Patriarch 1997.
TOP FLAT JOCKEYS IN BRITAIN:
1 Sir Gordon Richards 4,870.
2 Pat Eddery 4,585
3 Lester Piggott 4,493
4 Willie Carson 3,828
5 Doug Smith 3,111
6 Joe Mercer 2,810
7 Fred Archer 2,748
8 Edward Hide 2,593
9 George Fordham 2,587
10 George Duffield 2,418