Racing: How and Why Pat Eddery will be the next champion jockey
Sunday 24 October 1993
The Mind. The horse, the greater physical part of a racing partnership, has little idea of what he is doing. The concept of winning a race - getting from point A to an arbitrary point B before the others - exists only in the mind of the humans surrounding him. So it is up to the jockey to read a race, and Eddery's judgement of pace and when to pounce is top-class. His intimate knowledge of racecourses goes without saying. After 26 years in the saddle he will have ridden Britain's 35 Flat courses in all sorts of weather and going.
The Body Eddery is 5'6' and can get his weight down to 8st 4lb. He is not a natural lightweight, but does not need to resort to severe wasting. The Z-shaped jockey crouch and the strain of riding a half-ton animal at 35 mph-plus tends to develop the back and shoulder muscles. One of Eddery's great assets is his strength in a close finish. His very active style as he drives a horse to the line, moving in the rhythm of the gallop stride, is not everyone's cup of tea, but the technique is powerfully effective.
The X Factor: Horse-power. Eddery is a top jockey because of his talent, flair and dedication, but the best jockey in the world cannot win on a donkey. Eddery will be champion again because more than 160 (so far) of the horses he has ridden this year have been the best in their races, from selling plates to classics, under the given conditions. His main employer, Khaled Abdullah, has some of the classiest runners in the world, and he is a regular on those from the winner-producing machine of trainer Richard Hannon.
The Hands A jockey's contact with his horse is largely through his hands. They hold the reins, which are attached to the metal bit in the racehorse's sensitive mouth. Apart from basic instructions about speed and direction, all sorts of messages can travel down the reins, almost like electrical impulses. Poor riders, with rough or frightened hands, can unsettle or ruin a horse. But the top jockeys communicate positively. Good hands, light but confident, can kid a horse, who would easily win any straight battle of strength. They could settle a hard puller on a piece of silk ribbon, and their worth cannot be overestimated.
Empathy Being a champion race-rider is not only a matter of jockey technique, which can be improved with practice, but the great horseman's gift of empathy with an animal. Eddery will often meet a mount for the first time when he is legged up in the parade ring before a race, but will have him summed up and on his side by the time he gets to post. And he not only gets on with horses, he gets on with the people in the business too.
Homework A jockey's work does not end when he passes the finishing post; he will spend hours absorbing knowledge from the form-book, weighing up all the options before seeking or accepting a ride. A champion like Eddery will also be up at dawn in all weathers test-driving; riding exercise or work on the home gallops, getting to know, judging and improving horses and communicating that knowledge to the trainer.
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