Racing: Eddery merits his main chance: A famous name has been of no assistance to the pilot of tomorrow's big-race favourite. Sue Montgomery reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE understudy steps into the limelight at Haydock tomorrow. Paul Eddery is back on Owington, hot favourite for the Sprint Cup, his reward for a winning performance on the colt in Newmarket's July Cup. Eddery has ridden good horses before, but usually unheralded and, more often than not, deselected in favour of a star name. This time he's the main man.

To the public, it may seem as though Eddery's progress has been overshadowed, even blighted, by comparisons with the more famous bearer of the surname, Pat, 10 times the champion jockey. But he does not see it like that; they are of a different generation and, largely, move in different circles. 'Being his brother has not affected me. I've always been Paul, not young Pat,' Eddery says.

Naturally, their pedigree credentials are the same. Irish-bred, their father Jimmy rode Panaslipper into second place in the 1955 Derby and to victory in the Irish Derby. Their grandfather, Jack Moylan, was on Fly Mask, the runner-up in the 1928 Grand National. And their careers started in similar fashion - riding out with Seamus McGrath, and then apprenticed to Frenchie Nicholson.

A perennial favourite in newspapers is a picture of the brothers fighting out a finish, but that is as close as they are likely to get. With 11 years between them, Paul, the eleventh of 12 children, was only four when Pat went off to England to seek his fortune as a jockey. And by the time Paul rode his first winner - Tou Fou at Wolverhampton for Derek Ancil in 1979 - big brother was already a four- time champion. 'I haven't too many childhood memories of Pat, and we are too big a family to be really close-knit,' Eddery says. 'I never tagged along on his coat-tails when I started riding, just the opposite, really. The first time we were in a weighing room together he didn't speak to me; in fact, it was some years before he did.

'It was as much the age difference as anything, and the fact that I was a lowly apprentice. In those days young kids didn't say boo to anyone, least of all the champion jockey, brother or not. I didn't really like him much then, but I didn't really know him. We're closer now, and we share an agent, our brother-in-law Terry Ellis. I like him to win - but only if I can't'

When Nicholson retired, Eddery went to Reg Hollinshead and then joined Henry Cecil as number two to Steve Cauthen. 'I enjoyed that enormously. It was a nice yard to work in and it was my first opportunity to find out what a really good horse was. It was like suddenly seeing Linford Christie after going to local sports club meetings, and I won on both Oh So Sharp and Slip Anchor as two-year-olds.'

Eddery left Cecil to replace Joe Mercer at Peter Walwyn's in 1986, but the move was not a success. The job, too much too soon, lasted only a year, and Eddery has had to tough it out as a freelance since. In his first Derby, that of 1987, he and the Geoff Wragg- trained Most Welcome had only Reference Point in front of them. 'The turning point of Pat's career was his Derby win on Grundy,' he says, 'and I had a fantastic ride on Most Welcome. But nobody remembers the jockeys who come second.'

Perhaps there was a time when he was too honest in his opinions, but he has learned the art of diplomacy and over the last few years has become a more complete jockey, much improved in strength and style, and is currently only three wins away from a personal best score. The confident ride he gave Owington in the July Cup, dropping the colt out and pouncing to perfection, was difficult to fault.

In a competitive business, Eddery, quiet and reserved, has survived with a vengeance and is universally popular in the yards where he rides work in Newmarket, with both trainers and - significantly, for they are some of the best judges of all - the lads.

He nominates Rodrigo De Triano as the best horse he has ridden (he won three times on him as a juvenile but, typically, was replaced when the colt stepped up to Pattern class), but Owington must come a close second in his affections. 'He's got such a high cruising speed you can put him anywhere, and you know he'll quicken as well. In a sprint race such small things can make the difference between winning and losing, but if all goes well the only thing I'd fear is a change in the ground.'

Under an unusual turn- and-turn-about agreement, Eddery is to share Owington with Michael Hills, but he accepts the situation with typical realism. 'I don't know how the sharing arrangement will work, but I've been in the game long enough not to worry now, just to take every day as it comes. And tomorrow he's mine.'

(Photograph omitted)