Why Derby is the race all flat jockeys are desperate to win

Bill Esdaile
Follow Bill
Pat Eddery on magic of the Epsom meet.

FOR any young jockey looking for advice ahead of the Investec Derby, there are few better qualified than Pat Eddery.

The 61-year-old, who returned 4,632 British flat winners in a glittering career, rode in all but one renewal over the famous Epsom Downs between 1972 and 2003. During those three decades he bagged a hat-trick of wins and finished second on a further six frustrating occasions.

Yet, he told City A.M. this week that it’s the man with whom he shares a record 11 jockey championships – Lester Piggott – that should be the one marking their cards.

“Lester is without doubt the best jockey who ever rode around Epsom,” he said. “Nobody else has, or will ever, ride it as well as he did”.

Like Piggott, Eddery believes it is important to ride the horse rather than the race round the most esoteric of courses, as he did to such effect during his favourite triumph.

“If the horse doesn’t act around the track, it won’t win, wherever you position it,” he added. “I was last turning into the straight aboard Golden Fleece in 1982 and he was such an exceptional horse that he just flew past the entire field.”

If 1982 was a high point in Eddery’s career, the low came shortly after when he was beaten on the talented El Gran Senor.

“I messed up as I let him go too early,” he confesses. “He really should have won. Sometimes you can take defeat on the chin, but I couldn’t that day. I felt suicidal when I got home.”

Eddery’s love affair with Epsom began in April 1969 aboard a horse called Alvaro in an apprentice handicap run over the Derby course. Just 17 at the time, he says it was the start of a “dream come true”.

Looking ahead to next week’s race, Eddery finds it hard to look beyond hot favourite Dawn Approach.

“I just love the horse and he’s got a beautiful pedigree and temperament,” Eddery said. “He looks a much more straightforward ride than his father New Approach and there’s an argument he’ll improve for the step up in trip.”

As for the opposition, he certainly wasn’t impressed by second favourite Battle Of Marengo who he believes “looks light” and “didn’t take off when asked in the Derrinstown”.

Whoever wins, Eddery will be watching from the stands as Guest of Honour at this year’s Investec Derby Festival. But the real honour, he says, will go to the jockey whose horse follows in the hoof prints of the likes of Golden Fleece.

He said: “There are plenty of great races all over the world, but the Derby is, quite simply, the one race every flat jockey wants to win.”


Grundy (1975)
Eddery had the second favourite fourth turning into the straight but hit the front a furlong and a half from home and won by three lengths

Golden Fleece (1982)
Eddery’s 3/1 favourite tore through the field from the outside on the straight to win by three lengths from future St Leger winner Touching Wood

Quest For Fame (1990)
Only fourth favourite, Eddery’s mount took the lead just over a furlong out and won comfortably, again by three lengths, from Blue Stag