Racing: Eddery puts Lingfield before luxury in endless quest

It is one of those raw December days when the sun rises almost apologetically for a few hours and swiftly departs. After half an hour at Lingfield Park racecourse on Wednesday, thoughts turn inevitably to home, a roaring log fire and perhaps some mulled wine. Only the hardened, well-wrapped enthusiast will be found indulging his love for all-weather racing.

It is one of those raw December days when the sun rises almost apologetically for a few hours and swiftly departs. After half an hour at Lingfield Park racecourse on Wednesday, thoughts turn inevitably to home, a roaring log fire and perhaps some mulled wine. Only the hardened, well-wrapped enthusiast will be found indulging his love for all-weather racing.

Yet one name on the runners' and riders' board, a name which stands out like one of those Christmas light-festooned houses, makes a visit to the Surrey course worthwhile. Amongst the apprehensive, fresh-faced apprentices, who look like their mothers shouldn't have let them out on such a day, the gimlet-eyed Pat Eddery, still plundering the racecourse for winners at the age of 50 and whose career spans five decades, stands apart, a giant of a competitor in a small man's world.

The Irishman admits that he detests the all-weather, with its kickback. Certainly, it is an environment far removed from the years when he won the Derby on Grundy, Golden Fleece and Quest For Fame, and partnered four Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victors, his mounts including that scintillating performer Dancing Brave.

His early contemporaries have all long retired now, with the exception of George Duffield, and Eddery could have done so himself years ago. He owns a magnificent house an hour's drive away from Lingfield (at this time of year, he locks his private plane in the hangar until next March), with a two-furlong drive, where the views include his stud farm. He could, like several other top Flat jockeys, have escaped to the rather warmer climes of the Caribbean.

Instead, here he was, trying to deliver two final victories before the season ends on New Year's Eve, to claim a century of winners for the 29th time in his career. In fact, his finishing position in six races read: 7th, 6th, 2nd, 9th, 11th and 9th, so the 11-times champion was back again yesterday, and will be again in a week's time, if necessary.

Successful or not, come March this obsessive of the saddle will return to the fray once more. "Reaching that 100 winners is so important to me. I'm really determined to get it," he says in his soft Dublin accent. "Then next season I'll go for my 30th hundred. I'll just keep going as long as I'm enjoying it. The day I can't face it, I'll hang up my boots, but at the moment I have no thoughts about that."

He sees the doubts spread across his questioner's face. "This is what I've done all my life," he adds in explanation. "As long as I have still got that love for the game I may as well keep going."

Next season offers exciting possibilities. "I rode some nice two-year-olds at the back end and, hopefully, they might mature into decent three-year-olds." They include John Dunlop's Green Desert filly Goodness Gracious, and Peter Harris's colt Barrissimo, a 10-length winner on his second start.

If Eddery is to partner them, the sacrifices which keep his naked frame resembling something like an exhibit from Professor von Hagens' Body Worlds must continue: the daily saunas to keep his weight down to 8st 4lb and the dietary deprivation.

"My weight is good and, as for food, well, I've been doing this for 34 years and if I miss a meal it doesn't bother me. I haven't eaten today, but I'll have a bit of dinner tonight. A couple of lamb chops and little bit of potato and that'll be it. Anyway, if I ate too much my stomach couldn't take it. I'd be on the floor."

Eddery was 15 when he rode in his first race, when an apprentice to Frenchie Nicholson, on True Time at the Curragh. By the age of 22 he had secured his first Classic, on Polygamy in the Oaks. He registered his first Derby success on Grundy the following year.

His total of centuries is three more than Lester Piggott already – he also passed Old Stoneface's winners' record of 4,493 in June – and he is five ahead of Sir Gordon Richards, although he would be riding well into his fifties to beat the great knight of the turf's tally of 4,870 winners. It is whispered Eddery will be awarded a gong in the New Year Honours list. True or not, he merits such a distinction.

A smile spreads across his features when you ask him about the aspiring Edderys of today. "They're nice kids and they ask me for advice, which is very flattering, but I'm not the oldest still going. George Duffield is four years older than me. The younger jocks all take the piss a bit about us still riding, but you laugh it off." He admires Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon, but maintains: "Piggott was the best. He was a genius."

He was, but for undiminished enthusiasm, devilish desire for victory and a natural gift for galvanising the best from his equine partners, few have excelled like Eddery.

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