Lester Piggott: Legendary jockey dies aged 86

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Lester Piggott receiving the Ritz Club trophy from the Queen Mother in 1981 (PA)
Lester Piggott receiving the Ritz Club trophy from the Queen Mother in 1981 (PA)

Lester Piggott, whose Classic haul included nine Derby victories, has died at the age of 86.

Unquestionably one of the greatest jockeys of all time, Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock in 1948 when just 12 years of age, and his last win came with Palacegate Jack at the same Merseyside track in 1994, a few weeks short of his 59th birthday. He retired for a final time in 1995.

Piggott’s son-in-law, Derby-winning trainer William Haggas, who is married to Piggott’s daughter, Maureen, told the PA news agency: “Sadly we can confirm that Lester died peacefully in Switzerland this morning. I really don’t wish to add much more than that at this stage, although Maureen will be making a statement later.”

Crowned champion jockey 11 times, Piggott first won the Derby in 1954 aboard Never Say Die. Eight more wins followed – including Nijinsky in 1970 – with his last Epsom hero being Teenoso in 1983.

Also successful in the 2000 Guineas, Nijinsky and Piggott went on to land the Triple Crown with his triumph in the St Leger.

A brief training career saw Piggott saddle Cutting Blade to win the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1986, a meeting at which he rode a record 116 winners – with 11 of those coming in the Gold Cup.

Born in Wantage, Berkshire, on 5 November 1935, Piggott had his best season numerically in 1966, with 191 winners. He rode his 4,000th winner through Sparkling Sin at Nottingham on July 26 1982.

As well as winning the Derby nine times, Piggott also landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket five times, and the 1000 Guineas twice. In all he rode 30 British Classic winners – the last being Rodrigo De Triano in the 2000 Guineas for Peter Chapple-Hyam in 1992.

Piggott was nicknamed “The Long Fellow” because of his height. He was relatively tall for a Flat jockey, at 5ft 8in, and fought hard to ride at 30lb below his natural bodyweight.

Piggott’s 4,493 winners – over 5,000 worldwide – constitute the third-highest tally in British racing history, behind only Sir Gordon Richards and Pat Eddery.

Willie Carson and Frankie Dettori led the tributes to their fellow jockey. “I feel as though I have lost part of my life in a way, as Lester has been part of my life ever since I came into racing,” said an emotional Carson. “I came to his in-laws as an apprentice, and he was part of my life right from the word go, until the end. He was an iconic figure in the horse-racing world. He is a legend.

“We had the luck of some ding-dongs on the track, and he was a person who made us all better – because we had to be better to beat him. We had to up our game to compete with him, because he was so magical on top of a horse.”

Three-time champion Dettori said: “It is a shock when you hear news like that. He has been part of our lives for ever really. Lester was a hero of mine and a good friend. The impact he has made in racing, on all of us, is second to none.

“I will always try to remember him for the good things and I offer my sincere condolences to his family and his many friends. He was a legend. We always tried to aspire to be like him, and none of us can do it.

“I am not old enough to remember him riding when he was in his peak, but I’m talking as a professional jockey... we all grew up wanting to be like him.”

Dettori added: “He will never be forgotten.”

Newmarket trainer Sir Michael Stoute, for whom Piggott rode several winners, also paid tribute, saying: “He is an icon, a brilliant jockey. Many have tried to be like him, and no one has come close.”

Chapple-Hyam told Racing TV: “It was just unbelievable for a young man like myself to have Lester Piggott riding for you. He was my hero, he was everyone’s hero. Everything went like clockwork; Lester and the horse suited each other down to the ground.

“He had an aura about him all the time ... There are very few people in racing who are known by their first names. Frankie [Dettori], Lester, probably Henry [Cecil] – and that’s by the general public, not just us people who think it’s a huge world in our business. You mention Lester’s name, everyone knows Lester, everyone has got a story to tell about Lester. Whether they backed him in the five o’clock somewhere or they bumped into him, he was worldwide.”

Along with Frankel, Piggott was in the first draft of inductees into the British Champions Series Hall of Fame last year.

Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, said: “Lester was a true titan of sport, a one-off who transcended horse racing. To this very day, the top answer to ‘name a famous jockey’ remains Lester Piggott.

“Enigmatic and reserved, it was on the track that he did his talking, with nine Derby wins among his 30 British Classics together with 11 champion jockey titles. He matched a fiercely competitive spirit with genius horsemanship and was revered by millions.”

He added: “We will be forever grateful for the indelible contribution he made to British horse racing.”

PA

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