Racing: Great Gatsby, great Eddery, great pity

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The Independent Online

Virtually without exception, they've retired, died, or turned into cackling TV pundits, that golden era of elite jockeys who dominated the Seventies and Eighties: the likes of Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Steve Cauthen, Geoff Lewis. But one remains, and 34 years on from when Pat Eddery partnered Alvaro to his first winner - appropriately enough at Epsom - as a callow 17-year-old, nobody could suggest that the Irishman had been offered the saddle on one of Aidan O'Brien's quartet of Derby runners purely on name or past reputation alone.

From the start, Eddery and The Great Gatsby had contested the lead in an attempt to utilise the colt's undoubted stamina. Just for a moment, as the field entered that final stamina-sapping last furlong, the partnership appeared to have all his rivals' measure and Eddery's name looked destined to be inscribed into Epsom folklore for a fourth time and a record in post-war years only bettered by Piggott, the nine-times victor. But the engine of the Sadler's Wells colt, having been engaged in high-cruising gear and cutting out so much of the early work, was running on empty by those final few yards and, despite every ounce of his jockey's endeavour, the pair had to give best to Kieren Fallon and Kris Kin.

It was the sixth time Eddery has finished runner-up in the Classic, the last time being in 2001 when Golan could not match Galileo, so it was no great surprise that he accepted defeat stoically. "I couldn't have asked for better," he said. "I could have done with a little bit softer ground but he's run a great race."

In context, a triumph for Eddery and probably for owner Sue Magnier, too, the colt having started at 20-1 as the least fancied of O'Brien's participants. But for the Irishman, seeking his third consecutive Epsom Derby winner, a relative disappointment. The precocious Ballydoyle trainer, still only 33, had arrived mob-handed in his attempt to achieve horse racing immortality. That is not to diminish the stature of his hand; it was merely that the astute trainer was aware that on the day, under the idiosyncratic contours, any one of his hopes could prosper.

Even if he failed there had been every expectation that one of his henchmen from across the Irish Sea, Dermot Weld and John Oxx, would prevail. An Ireland v England contest couldn't have had more riding on it if it had been fought out at Lansdowne Road. To listen to anyone with a view beforehand, and there is no dearth of them on Derby Day, you'd have accepted that the English contingent were merely present to supplement the numbers. In that respect, it was a strange renewal of the great race, with almost all of the England-based big-hitters absent. No Henry Cecil, Luca Cumani, John Dunlop or Paul Cole. Only Michael Stoute and John Gosden were present of the major stables who have tasted Derby success before. And it never does to ignore either, particularly when the money talks.

Here, it was verbosity itself, as the price of Kris Kin fell from 14-1 at the start of day to 6-1, a massive gamble by any consideration given the scale of the on-course betting public. They don't swarm to Epsom like they used to, of course. But when it was in midweek it was perceived as the annual skive, the great Londoners' day out; rarely have so many grandmothers been buried on the first Wednesday in June. Those were the days when you could take two hours to arrive as you queued behind the charabancs.

Today, there's still a surfeit of spivs and "dips", as the police search team on the roof of the Royal stand indicated. They may have been equipped with expensive-looking binoculars, but they weren't looking for winners; more trying to prevent too many losers. Fifty years ago the Coronation Derby attracted the biggest crowd. Now racegoers bow to the new "royalty": TV celebrities. "'ere, it's her, innit," shrieked one young lass, almost overcome to be in such a presence. "That one out of Coronation Street?" Sure enough, it was a former barmaid (Sam, according to a more knowledgeable colleague). They could have done with a few more of her ilk - barmaids that is - in the Slip Anchor Bar, too, underneath the main grandstand. Great Derby winner, and grandfather on the dam's side, it should be added, of The Great Gatsby, but a more unpleasant and claustrophobic location on which to spend an afternoon it would be difficult to find. But then one should never underestimate what tortures the great British public will put itself through in the pursuit of pleasure. Certainly, the Epsom authorities haven't.

In the race itself, there were the usual problems with congestion, but none which denied an unlucky loser. Yet, the fact that the first half-dozen were no farther apart than the length of a stretch-limo may indicate that in Classic terms, this was not a vintage year. Certainly, O'Brien will be hoping that his much-vaunted trio Brian Boru, who could finish only 16th, Balestrini, fifth, and Alberto Giacometti, 12th, redeem themselves in the season's major contests.

But for The Great Gatsby, given by an inspired ride by one of racing's most enduring characters, there could only be praise on a day when O'Brien had to genuflect to the venerable Stoute, a man whose own Derby pedigree can be traced back to Shergar.