Joe Mercer
Joe Mercer Image Credit: Reuters

London: Former leading jockey Joe Mercer most famously associated with the legendary Brigadier Gerard has died aged 86 the Racing Post reported on Monday.

Nicknamed 'Smokin' Joe' Mercer and Brigadier Gerard won 17 of his 18 starts including inflicting one of the two defeats fellow equine legend Mill Reef's suffered on the turf in the 1971 English 2000 Guineas.

"He (Mercer) was my best friend and he used to call me every Saturday at 9am on the dot," said former rival Bruce Raymond.

"He was always very punctual all the way through his life and when he was riding he was the first to put his cap on, first to leave the weighing room, first into the gate and often first home.

"He was not only a great jockey but an even nicer man and he even found a nice side to not very nice people.

"I'm sorry he's gone but I'm pleased he went quick as he didn't do illness very well."

Brigadier Gerard was so good Hern successfully moved him up in distance in 1971 from a mile to 1 1/4 miles and led to him triumphing in the first of his two Champion Stakes victories.

"He was a freak horse with tremendous enthusiasm and speed the class to win beyond his distance," Mercer said of Brigadier Gerard.

"He was a horse you never thought about getting beat on."

Brigadier Gerard was also to prove equally adept over 1 1/2 miles winning the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1972.

It is, though, the 1975 running of the race which was most memorable with Mercer on Hern's Bustino engaged in a thrilling duel with the late Pat Eddery on Grundy.

Grundy was to just edge Bustino after battling back when the latter had regained the lead in the final furlong of the contest.

Other notable winners Mercer rode included top class filly Highclere for Queen Elizabeth II winning the 1974 English 1000 Guineas and that year's French Oaks (the Prix de Diane).

Mercer was part of a golden age of jockeys with not only Eddery but also chirpy Scot Willie Carson and the one considered perhaps the greatest of all time Lester Piggott.

"Joe was a top-class person and was straight down the line," said Piggott paying tribute to him.