Profile: Posterity is the spur: Pat Eddery - Stan Hey traces the career of a jockey who is today looking to cement his place in racing history

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The Independent Online
IF HE'S smart enough, the much- criticised Japanese jockey Yutaka Take, rider of White Muzzle, one of the favourites for this afternoon's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, will make a bee-line across the weighing-room before the race with notepad and pencil in hand. The object of his quest should be to get the optimum route-map of the looping Longchamp course from fellow jockey Patrick James Eddery, for the Irishman is not just the undoubted master of this particular track, but also the man with more Arcs to his credit than a Clydeside welder.

On four previous occasions, Eddery has steered his mounts to victory in what is generally regarded as the roughest, most competitive race in the European calendar. In 1980, it was Robert Sangster's filly Detroit, and then between 1985 and 1987, Eddery completed a unique hat-trick by winning in three successive years on Rainbow Quest (after an objection and stewards' inquiry had removed the first-past-the-post Sagace), then on the great Dancing Brave, and finally with the Andre Fabre-trained Trempolino. If Eddery wins this afternoon, and his four-year-old mount Intrepidity, who won the English Oaks in 1993, is not unfancied, he will become the first man in the 75-year history of the race to win it five times.

Nobody should back against him, for of all contemporary jockeys, with the exception of Grandfather Piggott, it seems that Pat Eddery has an inherent capacity for achieving on a grand scale. Just three weeks ago, with what has been by his standards a low-key season apparently petering out, Eddery rode a race of great cunning and tactical acumen on the 40/1 chance Moonax to win the last Classic of the year, the St Leger. It served as a pointed reminder to anyone tempted to shunt Eddery's career towards the out-tray that the 42-year-old champion jockey of Britain is still well short of his personal finishing post.

The doubters first began their muttering last winter when Eddery declined to rise to the jockeys' championship challenge issued by his young Italian rival, Frankie Dettori, who had taken advantage of the new January-December season by starting to ride on the all- weather tracks. The jockeys' title had previously been decided on the turf results, between March and November, but now Dettori was racking up winners on the sand, and by the time Eddery pulled on his boots for the Lincoln meeting, Dettori already had an unassailable lead of 51 winners. Dettori will duly be crowned champion next month, before he flies off for a spell in Hong Kong.

Eddery has cherished the championship, which he has won 10 times, even titling his autobiography To Be A Champion. In it he wrote: ' . . .the lasting pleasure is to win the title. To be No 1 in your field is surely what everybody sets out to achieve in life and any jockey who tells you the championship means little to him is either a liar or a fool. It is the ultimate, and you cannot buy the feeling of satisfaction it brings.'

So how do we square this, together with his long-expressed wish to equal or beat Lester Piggott's 11 titles, with Eddery's apparent unwillingness to get into a sand-kicking contest with his rivals? The answer, it seems, is less to do with pride or stubbornness than a thorough distaste for the experience of all-weather racing in the darkest, coldest months of the year. But unless he overcomes this, it seems unlikely that Eddery will ever be champion again, because if not a Dettori, there will most likely be a Jason Weaver or a Kevin Darley willing to ride through the year to gain the ultimate crown.

Eddery's chances of regaining his supremacy were also dealt a severe blow in May, when it was announced that his lucrative retainer with the Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Abdullah will end next month. Since that dashing win on Dancing Brave in the 1986 Arc, Eddery has been sustained not only by Abdullah's moolah, but also by the regular supply of top quality horses in the Prince's string. With all the other big retainers seemingly nailed down, Eddery will almost certainly resume his riding career next season as a relatively humble 'freelance'.

Yet the Irishman remains cheerful and undaunted, confident that his services, as is the case with Sheikh Mohammed today, will still be in demand by the top owners for the top occasions. It seems that only when the rides dry up, as they are beginning to for Piggott, will Eddery contemplate a quieter life. He has enough wealth, property and bloodstock investments to enable him to retire this evening if he wished, yet despite the setbacks this season his pleasure in riding seems indefatigable.

Such enthusiasm can only be sourced from a deep well and Eddery's childhood could have provided no greater nourishment. He was born on 18 March, 1952, the fifth of 12 children for Jimmy Eddery, the stable jockey for the top Irish trainer Seamus McGrath. The family home was on the fringes of the Curragh racecourse, south of Dublin. Short of being born in a manger, Eddery could not have had a more formative beginning to his life. Education was duly neglected for the thrills of the racetrack and days spent with ponies and horses.

'On horseback, I was instilled with a conviction and self-belief I never felt at other times,' Eddery confessed in his autobiography. By the age of eight, he was riding work for the McGrath yard, and six years later he was apprenticed there. But after being largely overlooked for race rides, he transferred his allegiance across the Irish Sea to the stable of Frenchie Nicholson outside Cheltenham.

Nicholson, father of the top National Hunt trainer David, was a noted tutor of young jockeys, not just in horsemanship but in the other trials of life, and Eddery, like Tony Murray before and Walter Swinburn later, benefited hugely from his time at Cheltenham. He rode his first English winner at Epsom in April 1969, scored a five- timer at Haydock in August 1970, and by 1971 was champion apprentice with 71 winners in the season. Such was Eddery's precociousness that it was inevitable he should be lured away from the homely Nicholson yard. From 1972-80, he was retained by Peter Walwyn.

The move brought him into the front-line of racing, and while he was obliged to refine his style under the eagle eyes of assorted stewards, it was soon obvious he had that magic ability to make horses of all types pull out their best. He won his first Derby on the great Grundy in 1975, and was champion jockey three times between 1975 and 1977. After the Arc win on Detroit, he found himself courted by Ireland's most distinguished trainer Vincent O'Brien who had a stack of Robert Sangster horses for Eddery to ride. One of these, Golden Fleece, became his second Derby winner in 1982, while El Gran Senor, in most people's eyes, should have been the third in 1984.

The arguments about El Gran Senor's short-head defeat still surface today, as do the stories about Piggott, whom Eddery had succeeded as O'Brien's rider, allegedly whispering 'Do you miss me, then?' into the shell-shocked ears of owner and trainer. Those who blamed Eddery's riding are countered by the jockey's enduring belief that the horse didn't stay the mile-and-half in a true run race. Neverthless, he described the defeat as the 'greatest disappointment of my riding life'.

His other darker moments have included the early death of his father, and a jump-racing accident to one of his brothers, Michael, which resulted in the amputation of a leg. Eddery's wife Carolyn, an accomplished horse- woman in her own right, is the daughter of jockey Manny Mercer, who died in a fall at Ascot in 1959.

Such shadows are banished, though, by Eddery's ever-twinkling eyes and puckish grin. His wife and two daughters are the centre of his life at his Buckinghamshire farm, while he has kept the business in the family by appointing his brother-in-law Terry Ellis to be his agent. His Cessna plane is less a status symbol than an instrument of practicality, especially during the summer when Eddery rides at two meetings per day.

Over the past 10 years, Eddery has become the epitome of the modern, go-anywhere jockey, winning Grade One races from Japan to America. Now Dettori has taken his championship, while some believe that his compatriot Michael Kinane has already usurped him on the international scene. What's left for Eddery is posterity. He'll want to fill the gaps - he's never won the 1,000 Guineas - and secure those records that still remain within reach. Perhaps the greatest of all would be overhauling Sir Gordon Richards' career total of 4,870 winners. Eddery has more than 3,500 already, so another decade of health and success could see him go close. But first there's the chance of that fifth Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. For Pat Eddery, the future starts today.

Intrepidity - could there be a better name?

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