Racing: Title hope fades as Eddery loses appeal

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PAT EDDERY's sequence of four successive jockeys' championships looks certain to be broken after his failure yesterday to have a five-day suspension for careless riding overturned. 'I've always said we won't celebrate until we're 25 clear and there are 24 races left,' Michael Roberts's agent, Graham Rock, said, but then anybody who had backed their client at 100-1 to win the title could be expected to exercise such restraint.

To talk of Eddery having a disappointing season might seem perverse in view of the prize- money haul of his mounts - pounds 1,524,000, and more than any of his rivals - yet a closer look at the figures reveals several curious imbalances. Eddery has accumulated 18 days in penalties for either careless or improper riding and has managed to secure just 540 mounts to compare with Roberts's 760.

The champion-elect has conducted a carefully orchestrated campaign (Rock is phoning for rides by 6.30am) that has propelled him round the country like a minister at election time. Roberts has also been assisted by the fact that Eddery's principal employer, Khalid Abdullah, has been sending more horses to be trained in France, thus removing Eddery from the domestic scene more often.

The consensus at York was that Eddery was harshly treated in receiving five days for the ride he gave Silver Wizard in the Gimcrack Stakes, and indeed there must have been some doubt in the minds of the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee because the appeal hearing lasted three and a half hours. So late was the verdict in coming that Eddery was forced to surrender his only ride at Brighton, while Richard Quinn, a witness at the hearing, was compelled to abandon three.

'I've got to say I'm unhappy with the outcome,' Eddery said as he left the Jockey Club for another involuntary holiday. 'I wasn't worried about the championship. All I was worried about was today's verdict.' To recap, Eddery was penalised for pushing through a tight gap, but maintains that the hole was closing only because Quinn's mount, Green's Bid, was drifting off a true line.

Among the engagements Eddery misses is his date with Allegan in the March Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday. Allegan was one of only 13 horses left in the St Leger at yesterday's declaration stage, a worryingly low figure which looks even worse when you consider that 53 candidates, including 10 from the Henry Cecil stable, were withdrawn.

Against that it is worth reiterating that User Friendly, the unbeaten winner of the Oaks, is likely to be supplemented for the race at a cost of pounds 25,000 on 5 September, thus adding some much needed fibre to the world's oldest Classic.

Only 10 contested the race won by Eddery on Toulon last year, and that was the highest turnout for seven years, so the St Leger clearly has a problem in attracting large groups of runners while the range of alternative autumn targets continues to widen. Nevertheless, the argument that the St Leger is in decline is as flawed as it is repetitive, and there will be little to justifiably moan about this year if User Friendly takes on Bonny Scot, Allegan, Sonus and Shuailaan.

Apart from all but losing his chance to be champion for a 10th time, Eddery has not ridden a Classic winner this season. Expect him to be watching Allegan this Saturday with his face rammed against the screen.