The late Patrick James John “Pat” Eddery, who died in 2015, at the premature age of 63, after a long period of ill health, was the second most successful jockey, numerically, in the history of British horse racing. Between 1969 and 2003, Eddery rode 4,633 domestic winners, placing him behind only Sir Gordon Richards (4,870) in the all-time list, and ahead of Lester Piggot (4,493); like Piggott, he was Champion Jockey 11 times.
In 1966, on his fourteenth birthday, Eddery was formally apprenticed to one of the legendary names of the Irish turf, Seamus McGrath, at Glencairn, near Leopardstown racecourse. His first ride in public, at the Curragh in August, 1967, finished last of seven but, following a move to Herbert ‘Frenchie’ Nicholson – a successful trainer renowned for his ‘academy’ of young riders, but a notoriously hard taskmaster – at Cheltenham, Eddery eventually rode his first winner, Alvaro, at Epsom in April, 1969.
Nevertheless, Eddery became Champion Apprentice in 1971 with 71 winners and, in 1972, was offered the position of stable jockey with Peter Walwyn at Seven Barrows in Lambourn, Berkshire.In 1974, Eddery rode 148 winners, including his first British Classic winner, Polygamy, trained by Walwyn, in the Oaks at Epsom, to become Champion Jockey for the first time. At the age of 22, he was, in fact, the youngest Champion Jockey since Sir Gordon Richards won the first of his 26 jockeys’ titles in 1925.
The Walwyn-Eddery partnership, which lasted for eight years, yielded three more jockeys’ titles in a row for Eddery, in 1975, 1976 and 1977. The best horse Walwyn trained in that period was Grundy who, in 1975, won the Derby, the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and was named British Horse of the Year. The latter race, in which Grundy, ridden by Eddery, was involved in a thrilling, head-to-head duel with Bustino, ridden by Joe Mercer, up the straight, eventually winning by half a length, was justifiably dubbed ‘The Race of the Century’.
Eddery did not become Champion Jockey again until 1986, the year in which he replaced Greville Starkey as the jockey of Dancing Brave, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah and trained by Guy Harwood. In the absence of the injured Starkey, Eddery rode Dancing Brave to victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and kept the ride in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe later that season. In the latter contest, Eddery produced a magnificent riding performance; one that would, ultimately, define his career. Employing exaggerated waiting tactics, Eddery was virtually last entering the straight but, having made up ground from a seemingly impossible position, challenged widest, and latest, of all, to win by 1½ lengths in record time.
The following season, 1987, Eddery accepted a retainer from Prince Khalid Abdullah and their partnership, which lasted until 1994, yielded five more jockeys’ titles, in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993. In fact, in 1990, Eddery recorded his highest ever seasonal aggregate, of 209 winners, making him the first jockey since Sir Gordon Richards in 1952 to ride over 200 winners in a season. Highlights of his time in the familiar green, pink and white silks included Quest For Fame, who won the Derby in 1990 and Zafonic, who won the 2,000 Guineas in 1993.
Eddery was Champion Jockey, as a freelance, for the eleventh, and final, time in 1996. That year he won 1,000 Guineas on Bosra Sham and the Oaks on Lady Carla, both trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil.