PATRICK JAMES JOHN EDDERY
18.04.1952 – 10.11.2015
All of you here can share an abiding image I have of Pat. He is cantering to the start at Newmarket, the horse sailing free beneath him and the hands on the reins the most gifted you will ever see.
It’s an image of Pat in the land where he was King – although at the serious risk of blasphemy in this house – I should remind you that for quite a while Pat was so supreme that his fellow jockeys actually nicknamed him “God”. Back on earth he was easy going, humble, kind, smart and generous. In the saddle he could rule the world – and he did.
You know the records but they are worth repeating. Here in Britain, over 44 seasons he rode 4,632 winners and 14 classics including 3 Derbies. Between 1973 and 2001 he rode a century of winners every season bar 1982 in which year he was champion jockey in Ireland the only rider to do that as well as win the British title which he did 11 times. And Pat could travel, 6 French classics and a record four Arc de Triomphes, big races all across Europe, 3 Breeders Cup triumphs in the States and one unforgettable Japan Cup in Tokyo.
It was a greatness that he wore without a swagger. He was the least conceited or confrontational of champions but the obviousness of his gifts and the swell of his success should never let us think that one led to the other without an immense amount of drive, daring, dedication, deep racetrack intelligence and in-running calm. In paying tribute to how he got there and stayed there it’s best to go back to the beginning – or in Pat’s case to before the beginning.
Perhaps to the dead heat finish of the 1944 Irish 2,000 Guineas. For this was fought out between Jimmy Eddery and Jack Moylan whose daughter Josephine would later marry Jimmy and bear him 13 children, the fifth of which was born in Newbridge next to the Curragh on the 18th March 1952. The boy was christened Patrick James John and when he was only four he flew out of the unfastened passenger door of his father’s car at 60 mph and bobbed up with hardly a scratch on him. In a couple of years the family moved to Blackrock on Dublin Bay and little Patrick, they never called him Pat, was soon peddling three miles south to ride his pony with the Seamus McGrath string at Glencairn next to Leopardstown where his father had become assistant and his Uncle Connie was head lad.
The effect of these connections did not make life easier. Pat’s natural, fearless affinity with horses saw him riding thoroughbreds at 9 years old and when he and his more extrovert older brother Michael got chucked out of school for colluding in exams he signed as a Seamus McGrath apprentice on his 14th birthday. But Jimmy and Connie were so intent on not granting family favours that they made Patrick’s life extra tough and it was not until 18 months later that the young hopeful had his first ride in public. And after that duly finished last, the other lads gave him so much stick that he begged his parents to let him try his luck in England.
So, in September 1967, Jimmy brought his son over to Frenchy Nicholson’s yard hard by Cheltenham racecourse where there were also no favours given but where, crucially, the man in charge could see and plan for genius when he found it. It was not a flying start. Pat may have had his first ride at Liverpool the next March, and got dumped charging the tapes before the flag had dropped, but it was 70 rides and 390 days before the Eddery name was finally next to a winner. And the wait had been worth it.
Pat may have described Frenchy’s as “more borstal than Butlins” but by the time he walked into the Epsom paddock on the 24th April 1969 to ride Alvaro for Michael Pope the trademark Nicholson disciplines of correctness in and out of the saddle were already deeply ingrained in the young apprentice. “Just guide him round,” said the trainer, “he’ll win.” Alvaro did and he and Pat repeated the trick five more times in the next 29 days. Our man was on his way.
The next year, 1970, he rode 57 winners including a five timer at Haydock. In 1971 he was champion apprentice. In 1972 he finished third in the Derby on Pentland Firth and won the Gold Cup on Eskimo Hawk after the disqualification of Rock Roi for whose trainer Peter Walwyn he was that autumn to sign on as stable jockey. He was not yet 21.
In racing terms you know the rest. How in that first Walwyn year Pat rode over 100 winners, was top jockey at Royal Ascot and third in the Championship. How a year later he had won the Oaks on Polygamy and the jockeys’ championship which he won again in 1975, 76 and 77.
How in 1975 he won the Derby on Grundy on whom he then fought out the ultimate flat race duel against Bustino at Ascot ridden by his soon to be Uncle Joe Mercer. How in 1980 when the Walwyn stable was weakened by continuing virus, Pat accepted an offer he could not refuse to ride for Robert Sangster and Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle. How he won the Arc in the Sangster colours on Detroit in 1981 and the Derby for Sangster and O’Brien with Golden Fleece a year later, and of course how he did not win the 1984 Derby on the Sangster/O’Brien Guineas winner El Gran Senor.
You know how in 1986 Pat produced the ultimate waiting race to win the Arc on Dancing Brave. How a year later he came back to England to ride for Dancing Brave’s owner Khalid Abdulla and the golden touch continued most especially in 1990 when the English and French Derbies were part of a season that climaxed in a record 209 winner championship.
You won’t have forgotten how Pat’s back was so bad in 1997 that he had to go for surgery straight after winning his 4th St Leger on Silver Patriarch and how he returned to ride for another 6 seasons and 13 more Group One winners before finally drawing stumps in 2003, aged 51. But what is often overlooked or unseen is what was happening to the man.
Family life with Jimmy Eddery had always been a strain, the old man being fiery both on and off the track. After leaving the McGrath’s he came over to Lewes to work as a stable lad and drank so hard for Ireland that Pat eventually bought his mother a house in Newmarket to get away. Earlier he had been faced with an even harsher duty – for it was Pat, in November 1972, who had to sign the form for the amputation of his brother’s right leg after a horse had crashed through a wing with Michael Eddery at Newcastle.
Amidst all his success Pat always sought elements of ordinariness. For 4 years at Nicholson’s he lived in George and Annie Wilson’s council house in Prestbury and when he bought his own place nearby he moved them in as housekeepers. Poor George dropped dead on the very first day but Annie stayed on as a treasured confidant until Pat moved to Minster Lovell and got married in 1978.
In the same vein, for most of his career Pat’s racing manager was his brother in law Terry Ellis, and while the Musk Hill Stud to which the Edderys moved near Aylesbury was stylish enough, its 100 acres were much more a place for serenity than socialising. Carolyn and Pat had met when she was riding out for her grandfather Harry Wragg and as the daughter of the late Manny Mercer and the niece of Joe she had an understanding of the treadmill of the jockeys season and she and the children were an antidote to his other life.
Nikki was born in 1982, Natasha in 1985 and Harry six years later. Pat was very proud of them all and loved to give them silly nicknames. Nikki was Pinky after her pink riding top, Tasha was Woofy after a witch in a children’s book and Harry, inevitably was Potter. Pat’s schedule prevented him being a full on weekend father but Nikki remembers him coming to see her ride at a big show in Peterborough and being thrilled when her picture of Cigar signposted her artist’s career when exhibited at Stowe. The horse’s name was highly suitable because family and friends will remember how much he liked to lean back and puff on one of his favourite Davidoff cigars.
He loved to watch Natasha when she was eventing and had been almost a fixture at Olympia when she rode in the Shetland Grand National. “He was giving the prizes away,” she laughs, “they tried to fix it so that I won every time.”
All five of the family were able to ride out together when he started training and Pat was impressed with young Harry’s talent until it became obvious he would outgrow the metier. Best memories of course were the holidays when in the family’s words – “we had him to ourselves.” There was a special one in Mauritius at the end of his career but there had been many down in Marbella where hyper-active Pat would get up specially early to beat those German towels on the sun beds and then take them off to water ski or play tennis.
There were dogs, especially an enormous Doberman called Henry to whom Pat was devoted and vice versa, and of course there was the tennis. At school in Stillorgan Pat had shown little interest in any sport except, surprisingly, cricket. But in later life tennis was the thing. He would have great knowledge of all the players and the Grand Slams. Federer, quiet, super talented, and determined was naturally his hero, and if his own ability was more of the selling plate variety he and Carolyn had many battle royals playing doubles with Willie and Elaine Carson in Barbados.
But such things had always been seen as mere balancing acts to the real thing out where the hooves thunder and the divots fly, and another life, even training was going to struggle to be a substitute. Family life got difficult, Carolyn and the children left but in 2009 Pat had a professional triumph in saddling Hearts Of Fire through an unprecedented climb from winning the Brocklesby at Doncaster in March all the way up via victories at Deauville and Baden Baden to summit with Group One success at San Siro in Milan.
During that season Emma Owen came first to ride out and then to share these last years together. It was not easy for either of them but there is no doubt that they found new happiness amongst the horses and the inevitable hounds, the latest being a splendid Dog de Bordeaux called Blue Boy. Back in August John Francome dropped in for a visit. He can’t be here today but yesterday he told me how good Pat looked and how pleased he had been to see him. There was sunshine there and it is with sunshine that we should remember Pat Eddery.
What a man Pat was, what rides there were. Out on the track he was the most ferocious competitor you could ever meet, back in the weighing he was never one for the shouting and the fisticuffs. Indeed the only time he got a black eye was when Geoff Lewis got excited one night in Hong Kong and Pat said “what do you want to do, hit me?” And Geoff did.
He could take triumph and disaster just as Kipling wished us to. At the end of the disastrous Epsom of 1984, having been beaten not just on El Gran Senor but also on the favourites in both the Oaks and the Coronation Cup, Pat walked to the car with his brother Paul, got in, blew out a deep breath, smiled and said “well that’s racing.”
By glorious, complimentary contrast let’s move on two years to Dancing Brave’s Arc. “This horse is a rocket,” Pat said to Tony Clark, “I am going to take them last of all. You just watch me.” And we did.
By road it’s just a one hundred fairly unexciting miles from Liverpool to Doncaster but the Eddery route has been rather more eventful. Indeed the journey from that first ride on Dido’s Drewery at Aintree on March 30th 1968 to the last on Gamut at Doncaster on November 8th 2003 will ever be one of the epics of any age. So let’s return to that first image of Pat cantering to the start and accept that those beautiful hands have now hacked on over the far horizon. Out there he will be at peace in the most blessed hands of all and so let’s close with that simplest but most meaningful of lines.
Thanks – for the memories
St Mary The Virgin