Racing: St Leger - Eddery's Classic example

Rider still in his prime salutes new generation but sounds a burn- out warning
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The Independent Online
PAT EDDERY is sitting on his porch, admiring the view across acres of middle English countryside, the well-earned legacy of two decades at the pinnacle of his profession. He looks tanned and well, as he should, and three winners at York have put him in a good temper. He scrolls through the basics of his afternoon's work: "Nice two-year-old for Jeremy Noseda, then Gold Academy won well and I'm always lucky with Tim Easterby's horses. Whenever I ride one they tend to win," he says with a self-deprecating chuckle. But he is already thinking about his rides for the next day. "I look forward to reading the papers every morning to find out what they are," he adds, though he knows pretty well.

The perfect autumn evening might have demanded comparison with the career development of the 47-year-old former champion, but for dire warnings of the consequences if words like "twilight" infiltrated a world dedicated to the cause of riding winners. By common consent, the quality of Eddery's jockeyship has not diminished one jot since his champion's days, even if the quantity of winners has been slowed this season by a six-week sabbatical after a fall in Austria.

That his name did not feature in the list of possible candidates for the job with Henry Cecil so hastily vacated by Kieren Fallon is one of those mysteries which even the elder statesman of the weighing-room is hard put to explain. His former boss turned to Richard Quinn, a competent, hard-working jockey, but hardly capable of the routine brilliance Eddery has displayed down the years. Seasoned watchers still purr at the ride Eddery gave his old friend, Silver Patriarch, in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket, a master class in persuasive race-riding which earned him widespread plaudits and, inevitably, a four-day suspension for misuse of the whip.

The old Cecil-Eddery partnership will be back in business this Saturday at Doncaster when Ramruma will attempt to bring Eddery his fifth St Leger, 25 years after the first of his 14 Classic victories, on Polygamy in the Oaks. Since then, the winners of three Derbys, three 2,000 Guineas, a 1,000 Guineas and two more Oaks - besides those four St Legers - have benefited from Eddery's peculiar bump and run finishing flourish. Yet the 11-times champion reacted like a raw apprentice to the call from Cecil asking him to ride Ramruma at York. "It was a great feeling, to ride a Group One filly for him," he says. "I was overjoyed." In part, that reflected the delight harboured by every jockey at the prospect of partnering classy animals; in part too, Cecil had given public credence to Eddery's belief that, as Jimmy Connors once said, age is just a number.

Eddery duly proved his point, as if he really had to, by judging the pace to perfection in a display of front-running which said as much about Ramruma's limitless courage as Eddery's tactical nous. "The pace wasn't strong enough and I wasn't going to turn it into a sprint," Eddery recalls. "So I thought I might as well dictate the pace from the front. She's relaxed and very clever and she felt like she would stay forever. If she had have gone the extra two furlongs [the St Leger distance], they would have got tired of trying to catch her." A feeling familiar to some of Eddery's pursuers over the years when "Come on, Pat" was the punter's favoured cry.

Faces have long gone from the weighing-room that Eddery first entered and attitudes have changed. The accusation by Michael Roberts, another former champion, in a newspaper article earlier in the week that the younger jockeys lacked respect for their elders has found no echo with the Irishman. "I was brought up by Frenchie Nicholson in the days when you called the senior jockeys 'Sir', that was what England was like. You kept your mouth shut. But times have changed. We're in the late Nineties now and they're a different breed. You have to accept that.

"If you make a cock-up, you're not going to get away with it and vice versa. They take the piss, call me 'grandad' and 'old fogey' and I say to them 'you won't say that at the furlong pole'. Dettori, John Carroll, Daryll Holland and the new generation like Dane O'Neill, I have a lot of fun with those guys, a lot more fun than when I was young. I have a lot of respect for them because they're good jockeys and they have respect for me." He would not, he admits, like to be starting all over again today, not with the quality of the riders, the increasing competitiveness of the racing and the proliferation of meetings. It took Eddery 70 rides before he had his first winner, a sequence of failure which would not have been tolerated today.

"These guys are in danger of getting burnt out because they can't afford to stop. They've got to keep going. I feel good now because I've not killed myself. I mean, is there any fun in going on the all-weather, freezing your nuts off at 9.30 at night at Wolverhampton, pushing something from start to finish. Once I stop in November, I don't see another jockey until the next March. I don't see many of these guys keeping going to my age and still enjoying it."

Far from winding down into well-earned retirement, Eddery has his eyes firmly on the 12th jockeys' title which, just coincidentally, would be one more than Lester Piggott. For all his acute statistical mind, one which automatically logs the performance not just of his own mount but potential rides around him, the prospect of surpassing the records of both Piggott and Sir Gordon Richards is not something he computes every day. Following Fallon's split with Cecil, Eddery sees the ghost of a chance for another title next season. "Without my fall, I'd be on the 100 mark by now and next year, who knows? If I started off well, I'd seriously go for it. I've never been known to be lazy."

"He's just the ultimate professional," says Jeremy Noseda, one of the most talented of the new generation of trainers. "He's helpful, he's honest, there's no bullshit with him, no airs and graces. When he turns up at the races, he's always immaculately dressed and what's his weight? Still eight stone five, eight stone six. I honestly believe he's right back up there at the peak of his powers. The problem for me is that I can't get enough of him. I'd like him to ride all my horses." Only Frankie Dettori and Mick Kinane, of the current weighing-room, are on a par with Eddery, Noseda believes. Eddery would take the compliment and move on. There will be a time to take up a permanent spot on that porch, reflect on past glories. But not while there are St Legers to be won.