06/22/2003 11:00PM

Pat Eddery retiring at year's end

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Pat Eddery, one of Britain's leading jockeys during the last three decades, announced his retirement on Monday, effective with the end of the current season.

The 51-year-old Eddery, 11 times the champion rider in Britain, announced his decision before an evening meeting at Windsor.

A native of Ireland, Eddery will retire with the status of a legend. He rode most of his career against the likes of Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, and Steve Cauthen, accumulating 4,585 victories in Britain alone, just 285 wins behind the all-time British leader, Gordon Richards.

"He was one of the greatest riders," Cauthen said. "He is a gentleman and a great competitor, and he always proved it in the big races."

Indeed, Eddery, who rode his first winner in 1969, had a well deserved reputation as a big-race rider. He won the Epsom Derby aboard Grundy, Golden Fleece, and Quest For Fame, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Detroit, Rainbow Quest, Dancing Brave, and Trempolino, the last three in succession from 1985 to 1987.

He showed that he is still as good as ever two weeks ago with a fine ride aboard The Great Gatsby in the Epsom Derby, just failing to catch Kris Kin by a half-length. He will be aboard The Great Gatsby once again on Sunday at The Curragh in search of his fifth victory in the Irish Derby.

Eddery will be best remembered in America for a trio of outstanding winning rides: aboard Tolomeo in the 1983 Arlington Million, in which he upset John Henry; Pebbles in the 1985 Breeders' Cup Turf; and Sheikh Albadou in the 1991 BC Sprint.

Cauthen recalled Eddery's fierce competitiveness as the two battled for the British riding title in 1987.

"We fought for the championship through the last three months of the season," Cauthen said. "I only won it by sneaking up to Catterick for an evening meeting after racing had been canceled at Newmarket. It was a great battle."

"I am still happy riding, but the time has come to say that I can't go on forever," an emotional Eddery told the Racing Post. His retirement will mark the end of an era in British racing as he joins a pantheon of greats that includes Piggott, Richards, Steve Donoghue, and Fred Archer.