Racing: Eddery rides the gamut of emotion

Legendary veteran hangs up his saddle amid cheers as the fairytale ending proves elusive

It will be business for Pat Eddery tomorrow, but not as usual, for after 36 years the weighing room is no longer the office for one of this sport's genuine legends.

A riding career that started with a last-place finish at the Curragh on 19 August, 1967 ended here yesterday. Not with the requisite fairytale victory, though; as it turned out, the last of his 4,632 domestic winners was the not inappropriately-named Spotlight at Newmarket a week earlier.

Eddery's achievements - 11-times champion; winner of 36 European Classics, including three Derbys and 11 others in Britain; achiever of a win total exceeded only by Sir Gordon Richards - mark him as something apart in the eyes of colleagues both young and old.

"When I was a kid, like every other kid, I wanted to be Pat Eddery," Kevin Darley said. "He's been an icon for as long as most of us older ones can remember." And nothing changes, apparently. "There's not an apprentice riding who doesn't think he's the man," said the teenager Dominic Fox.

But there was little deference from his fellows visible here in the gathering gloom after his last ride, third place on hot favourite Gamut. After covering the man they variously call God and Grandad with spray-on silly string in the winner's enclosure, they continued the riotous send-off by cutting his underpants and socks in half and putting cream buns in his shoes.

Win or lose, it was always going to be an emotional finale. From the moment Eddery arrived on Town Moor he was pursued by autograph hunters at every step; by the time of that last walk to the parade ring the crowd, much larger than usual on a particularly raw, grey end to the Flat turf season, had warmed themselves up with a frenzy of anticipation.

Eddery's earlier rides had yielded no better than a seventh on Rio Branco, a sixth on Ivy League Star, a ninth on Colourful Life and a fourth, plus an admonishment from stewards over his use of the whip, on Chubbes. But Gamut, backed to 1-2 favourite, was expected to do the business. His rider was applauded from the weighing room, cheered into the saddle, roared to the start.

However, even the exhortations of the faithful could not get Gamut home in front. Inside the final quarter-mile of the Serlby Stakes the four-year-old began to labour, leaving the trailblazing Scott's View to take on the role of the man who shot Bambi.

So Eddery's final ride ended not with a punch in the air, but an understated slither. And perhaps that was appropriate; the Irishman, for all his relaxed charm off-duty, has tended to belong to the Lester Piggott school of monosyllabic communication in public, to the extent that some have quite unjustly suspected a charisma bypass.

No fuss, no flamboyance has been the Eddery trademark. He was born into racing - his father, Jimmy, was an Irish champion - and, as one of 11 children, into a work ethic that demanded all his attention and gave his employers and the public consummate professionalism. It took him more than a year from the time he crossed the Irish sea at the age of 15 to join Frenchie Nicholson's famed apprentice academy to get off the mark, but once that first winner - Alvaro, at Epsom in April 1969 - came, his will to win was all-consuming.

The best of those that followed are the stuff of legend: his first big win as a highflying apprentice, Sky Rocket in the 1969 Wokingham Stakes; his first Classic, Polygamy in the 1974 Oaks; the race of the century, Grundy in the 1975 King George; El Gran Senor in the 1984 2,000 Guineas; Pebbles in the 1985 Champion Stakes and Breeders' Cup Turf; the peerless Dancing Brave in the 1986 Arc; his 4,000th success, Silver Patriarch in the 1997 St Leger.

That the fire burns as brightly as ever was evident in his final Group One success, the hard-driven Reel Buddy in the the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in August, after which his colleagues formed a guard of honour to welcome back the old master.

There are those who think perhaps Eddery will adopt the guise of the Terminator. "He's riding too well to let go," predicted Kieren Fallon, crowned champion for the sixth time yesterday. "After two weeks off he'll be missing it. If I were a betting man I'd have my maximum on his riding next year. He'll be back."

But Eddery, who left the racecourse quietly by the back door, already has his future lined up, still in racing, but away from the limelight. At his Musk Hill Stud at Aylesbury are, waiting to be broken in, 10 yearlings belonging to his newly-formed ownership group, Pat Eddery Racing.

"I'll be starting work on them on Monday," he said. "I'll still be hands-on with horses, I can't imagine not being. I've been fortunate to do something I love, but the time is right to stop and I'm looking forward to the next phase."

Comments