Joe Mercer - Bradford jockey remembered as a ‘gent’ has died, aged 86

TRIBUTES have been paid to Bradford-born former champion jockey Joe Mercer whose riding career was defined by his association with the legendary Brigadier Gerard.

Brigadier Gerard with Bradford-born jockey Joe Mercer in the saddle.
Brigadier Gerard with Bradford-born jockey Joe Mercer in the saddle.

Mercer, who has died at the age of 86, was also aboard Bustino when he was narrowly beaten by Grundy in the 1975 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot – the so-called ‘race of the century’.

“So sorry to here of the passing away of Joe Mercer ” tweeted Malton trainer Richard Fahey. “Great jockey a true gentleman and just an all round nice guy. My thoughts go out to his family and friends. Rest in peace.”

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ITV Racing pundit Mick Fitzgerald, a former Grand National-winning jockey, hailed Mercer – who came to be widely known as ‘Smokin’ Joe’ – as “a gent”.

File photo dated 26-07-1975 of Grundy ridden by Pat Eddery comes home to win the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, ahead of Bustino ridden by Joe Mercer (left).

Mercer rode the first of his 2,810 winners when Eldoret won a handicap race at Bath in September 1950.

His riding career included spells as stable jockey for Jack Colling, Dick Hern, Peter Walwyn and Henry Cecil, with the latter instrumental in his 1979 title success at a time when Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Willie Carson were Flat racing’s pre-eminent riders.

“It’s the end of an era, it’s so sad,” said Carson. “I know he was a fair age but it’s the end of an era.

“He was a real stylist in the saddle, rode a lot of good horses, was champion jockey. I took his job,

“Of course we’ve got so many great memories of him, especially the one when he won the 2000 Guineas on Brigadier Gerard. That was one of the great races.

“You look at these jockeys today bouncing in the saddle, please get the films out of Joe Mercer. Now there’s the ultimate jockey, that’s how jockeys should look. He was a really stylish jockey and he rode in a manner that was easy on the eye.

“Joe was the ultimate jockey, he was regarded in my time as the ultimate professional. He was liked by everyone, he wasn’t aggressive in any way. In the weighing room he was everybody’s friend, you could see Joe sitting in the corner with a pipe in his mouth, puffing away at his pipe.

“The King George, when Pat Eddery beat him on Grundy, is the race everybody says is the greatest race they’ve ever seen. There was Joe, who had that day, on Bustino, three pacemakers. Pat, using his brain as he always did, just sat behind and then went ‘pop’, he beat Bustino on the line - a great race.

“The ultimate professional, it’s a sad day for us old people because he was one of the ultimates. He was up there, he was one of those people that you put on a pedestal and I will miss him tremendously.”

Mercer retired as a jockey in November 1985. He then worked initially as a jockey’s agent before accepting a job as racing manager for Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 1987. He retired from that role in January 2006.

The most successful horse Mercer rode during his career was the middle-distance champion Brigadier Gerard, winner of 17 of his 18 races between 1970 and 1972.

The manner of the horse’s victory over future Derby and Arc hero Mill Reef in a vintage renewal of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1971 helped seal Brigadier Gerard and Mercer’s place in racing folklore.

Ironically the horse’s sole defeat came in Mercer’s home county when Roberto won the inaugural running of the International in 1972.

This was the year when the jockey escaped with his life after a plane taking him, and three others, to France crashed shortly after take-off.

He rushed back to the wreckage and pulled out trainer Bill Marshall.

He battled in vain to free 
the pilot and ran clear moments before the aircraft exploded.

Unsurprisingly Mercer was shaken up – but he was back in the saddle just 48 hours later to ride Brigadier Gerard to a memorable victory in the Prince of Wales’s stakes at Royal Ascot.

Trained by Dick Hern, Mercer once said of Brigadier Gerard: “He was a freak horse with tremendous enthusiasm and speed. He was a horse you never thought about getting beat on.”

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