For the first time the opening race on King George day at Ascot this Saturday will carry the name of one of racing’s greatest ever icons. The Wooldridge Group Pat Eddery Stakes honours the memory of a jockey whose career achievements stand comparison with those of any who came before him or since and cements a legacy between man and racecourse that began to be written well over 40 year ago.
Pat Eddery was taken from us at the premature age of 63 last November and across these shores and beyond fans of horse racing were momentarily stopped in their tracks when the news filtered through to them. Eddery starred in an era when live televised sport was rare rather than regular. Racing’s privileged position as a centrepiece on television’s then-limited platform of four channels meant that his exploits in the saddle were beamed to a captive audience of millions of homes across the UK every Saturday. Jockeys in the 1970s and 80s were collectively afforded statuses far closer to household names than they are today. Eddery was one of its biggest.
In a career spanning will over 30 years at the very highest level, Eddery rode a gigantic total of 4,632 winners in the UK – more than Sir AP McCoy and second only to Sir Gordon Richards in the post-war era. He forged his very own A to Z of winning partnerships with some of the greatest racehorses of modern times, from Assert right through to Zafonic, and along the way was crowned British flat racing’s Champion Jockey on 11 occasions. He won every Classic in both Britain and Ireland, lifted three Derbys and four Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes, and rode G1 winners in Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and the USA.
Eddery was challenged for supremacy by numerous star jockeys as he bestrode the generations, tangling with Piggott, Carson, Cauthen, Kinane, Dettori and Fallon, amongst others. His comprehensive array of natural gifts were married to a fierce will to win, flawless decision making and a Quartz-like sense of timing, a cocktail that enabled him to land some of the most sought after jobs in the world. Two of the sport’s most influential owners of all time, Robert Sangster and Prince Khalid Abdulla, made Eddery their retained jockey. They could have chosen anyone. They chose him.
It was in Prince Khalid’s colours that Eddery enjoyed perhaps his finest ever moment at Ascot, in the 1986 King George, aboard Dancing Brave. Weeks earlier the horse had been controversially beaten in the Derby under a different jockey. At Ascot, in Eddery’s hands, he gained redemption, and by the end of the season the pair’s partnership would write itself firmly into racing folklore.
Eleven years earlier he had served early notice of his genius in the same race, driving Grundy to a heart-stopping victory over Bustino in a contest dubbed ‘The Race of the Century’.
Eddery was leading jockey at Ascot’s Royal Meeting six times and in 1999 he famously declared Royal Ascot to be “the best [race] meeting of all, by a long way.” His love affair with the racecourse was long-standing and naming a race in his honour, following his untimely death, seemed like the obvious monument to his memory.
“As a family, we all agreed that our fondest, most cherished memories of Dad's incredible racing career were at Ascot Racecourse,” Eddery’s daughter, Natasha, said.
"While Dad had so much success all over the world, Ascot was one of his favourites by far. We are all so grateful that Ascot has chosen to honour his legacy on King George day. Dad would be so very proud.”
By Mark Robinson