Patrick (Pat) James John Eddery, flat racing jockey and trainer, is born on March 18, 1952, in Newbridge, County Kildare, near the Curragh Racecourse. He is the fifth of twelve children of Jimmy Eddery, a jockey who is Irish Flat Champion in 1954 and 1955, and who rides Panaslipper to win the Irish Derby in 1955. His mother, Josephine, is the daughter of Jack Moylan, also a jockey. His brother Paul goes on to become a successful jockey also. He initially attends the Patrician Brothers’ Primary School in Newbridge, later enrolling in Oatlands Primary School in Stillorgan when the family moves to Blackrock, Dublin.
Devoted from his earliest years to riding horses, Eddery has little interest in school. He begins his career on his fourteenth birthday as an apprentice jockey in Ireland (1966–67) with the stable of Seamus McGrath. In 1967, he moves to England where he is apprenticed to Frenchie Nicholson until 1972. After riding for more than a season without success, he records his first win on April 24, 1969, at Epsom Downs Racecourse on a horse named Alvaro, trained by Major Michael Pope. Alvaro provides Eddery with six wins in succession during the 1969 season.
Eddery finishes the 1971 season as champion apprentice with seventy-one winners, and in 1972 has his first Derby ride, the 50–1 chance Pentland Firth, who finishes third behind Roberto and Rheingold. In 1972 he also has his first victory in a Group 1 race via Erimo Hawk, when awarded the Ascot Gold Cup following the disqualification of Rock Roi for interference.
Eddery rides for the Newmarket trainer Geoffrey Barling in 1972 before becoming the stable jockey for leading trainer, Peter Walwyn, later that year. For Walwyn, he wins his first two English classic races on Polygamy (Oaks) and Grundy (Derby) and is Champion Jockey in four consecutive seasons from 1974 to 1977. While under retainer with Walwyn, he clinches the first of these titles when just twenty-two years old, a record in the post-war era. In 1975, after winning the Irish Derby on Grundy, he rides the horse to a hard-fought victory over Bustino in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in what is described by many at the time as “the race of the century.”
Eddery remains as stable jockey to Walwyn for eight years, before joining the Ballydoyle racehorse training facility of legendary Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien, for whom he rides a string of big-race winners, including the brilliant Golden Fleece, owned by Robert Sangster, in the 1982 Epsom Derby.
The O’Brien–Eddery combination experiences controversial defeat in the 1984 Epsom Derby when Eddery rides then unbeaten 2000 Guineas Stakes-winner El Gran Senor and seems to be cruising to victory in the final furlong, only to be caught on the line and beaten by a short head by Secreto, trained by O’Brien’s son David. He later admits that he should have won the race, but when the horses in front of him fell away early in the straight he was left in front too soon and was unable to repel Secreto’s late challenge. He later wins the Irish Derby on El Gran Senor, beating the subsequent Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe winner, Rainbow Quest. During 1984, he also partners the O’Brien-trained and subsequent outstanding stallion, Sadler’s Wells, to two of his three Group 1 successes.
The 1980s represent the pinnacle of Eddery’s career and include victories in the 1983 Arlington Million in Chicago on Tolomeo, the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Aqueduct Racetrack, New York, on Pebbles, and the 1986 Japan Cup on Jupiter Island, the latter two horses being trained by Clive Brittain. He also has four victories in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe: on Detroit in 1980, Rainbow Quest in 1985, the great Dancing Brave, on whom he also wins the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1986, and Trempolino in 1987. The field for the 1986 ‘Arc’ is extremely strong and Dancing Brave’s late winning run a thrilling spectacle. The race is voted “the greatest ever horserace” in a poll conducted by the Racing Post in 2022.
Rainbow Quest and Dancing Brave are both owned by the Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah, whose Juddmonte Farms is by then one of the world’s largest racing and breeding organisations. In 1987, Eddery becomes Abdullah’s retained jockey. Highlights of their association, which lasts until 1994, include Quest for Fame winning the 1990 Epsom Derby, and Zafonic, winner of the 1993 2000 Guineas Stakes.
Meanwhile, Eddery continues to win the jockeys’ championships, a task made easier by being retained by Juddmonte in England rather than commuting regularly to Ireland to ride for Vincent O’Brien. His highest seasonal total of wins is 209 in 1990, which is the first time a jockey has exceeded 200 since Sir Gordon Richards in 1952. His epic battle for the championship in 1987 with American Steve Cauthen is particularly intense, with Cauthen securing the title with 197 winners and Eddery coming close at 195. The title would have been shared at 196 winners apiece but for a successful objection by the rider of the third horse to the winner after the last definitive race between Eddery and Cauthen when they finished first and second, respectively. In 1988, Eddery regains the title with 183 winners from just over 480 rides, a remarkable strike rate of over thirty-eight per cent. He wins the championship for the eleventh and final time in 1996. His final classic win is on Silver Patriarch in the St. Leger Stakes of 1997.
Eddery rides major winners outside Europe and the United States, including Jupiter Island in the 1986 Japan Cup, and French Glory in the Canadian International Stakes. He teams up with Lester Piggott, Joe Mercer and French jockeys Freddie Head and Yves Saint-Martin to take part in a series of challenge races under the Ritz Club Challenge Trophy at Singapore and other Asian cities starting in 1983 for several years. His overall total of winners in the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe and overseas, exceeds 6,000. Although fiercely competitive on the racetrack, he is popular with fellow jockeys, trainers, owners and racegoers, who respond to his good-natured personality, courtesy and sense of humour.
Eddery has a distinctive riding style that is not classically elegant but undoubtedly effective and strong in a finish. He rides a number of truly outstanding racehorses including Dancing Brave, El Gran Senor and Pebbles, but maintains that the brilliant and undefeated Derby winner, Golden Fleece, is the greatest of all the horses he partnered throughout his career.
Eddery continues to ride into his fifties, finally retiring in 2003. He is appointed an honorary Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2005. He sets up an owners’ syndication business and takes out a training licence but has difficulty adjusting to life out of the saddle and becomes increasingly dependent upon alcohol. His training career meets with limited success, though he does train Hearts of Fire to win the Group 1 Gran Criterium of Italy in 2009.
Eddery marries Carolyn Mercer in November 1978. She is the daughter of flat jockey Manny Mercer, niece of jockey Joe Mercer, and granddaughter of jockey Harry Wragg. They have two daughters, Nichola and Natasha, and a son Harry. He has a son from an extramarital relationship, Toby Atkinson, who also becomes a jockey. The marriage with Carolyn breaks down in 2008 and the couple divorces in 2009.
Shortly after his marriage breaks down, Eddery begins living with Emma Owen, a former stable employee, at his 100-acre Musk Hill stud farm near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He becomes progressively estranged from his children due to his continued alcoholism.
Eddery dies of a heart attack at the age of 63 on November 10, 2015. He leaves his £1.3 million estate to Emma Owen. His funeral takes place on December 8, 2015, and his remains are cremated at Oxford. Throughout his career, Eddery rode the winners of 4,632 British flat races, a figure exceeded only by Sir Gordon Richards and was UK Champion Jockey on eleven occasions and Irish Champion Jockey once. A plaque in his honour is unveiled by his children Nichola, Natasha and Harry at Ascot Racecourse in 2016, where he had been champion jockey at the Royal meeting on six occasions. He is inducted into the Qipco British Champions Series Hall of Fame in 2021, the second jockey after Lester Piggott to be so honoured.
(From: “Eddery, Patrick (Pat) James John” by P. Gerry McKenna, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, September 2022)