HORSE RACING: Lester Piggott: Legendary Jockey and 9-Time Derby Winner, Dies Aged 86

Lester Piggott

By Jack Haynes and David Milnes | Racing Post

Tributes poured in from across the racing world and beyond  recently following the death of legendary rider LESTER PIGGOTT at the age of 86.

That was in part due to the longevity that allowed him to ride a phenomenal 4,493 domestic winners, the third highest tally in British racing history behind only Sir Gordon Richards and Pat Eddery, and an amazing big-race haul.

Piggott won the Derby a record nine times, including on 1970 Triple Crown winner NIJINSKY.                

Piggott, who died peacefully in Switzerland on May 29, 2022 having been in hospital recently, was known worldwide for a hugely successful riding career that lasted the best part of 50 years and remained Britain’s most famous jockey long after he quit the saddle.

And it also owed something to the way a man nicknamed ‘The Long Fellow’ and was 5ft 8in tall fought to ride at 30lb below his natural bodyweight and his uncanny knack of bouncing back from adversity on and off course, most famously when he returned from retirement and a spell in prison to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Royal Academy at the age of 54 in 1990.

Piggott was as well bred for the job as the choice horses he rode. His grandfather Ernie rode three Grand National winners and father Keith won the Champion Hurdle as a jockey and the National as a trainer.

Piggott rode his first winner at the age of just 12, on The Chase at Haydock in 1948, and the triple champion apprentice won his first Derby at 18 on Never Say Die in 1954. 

Piggott was champion jockey 11 times between 1960 and 1982 and won a record 30 British Classics.

After initially retiring in 1985, his training career was cut short by the conviction for tax fraud which earned him a year in prison, and he rode on for another four seasons after his shock return to the saddle. 

Piggott’s former weighing room colleague Willie Carson paid tribute to the legendary rider, describing him as “magical on top of a horse”. 

Carson said: “Lester was an iconic figure in the racing industry and changed the way things were done from his early days until he retired. Most jockeys were better off for his endeavours as we all had to up our game because of him.

“He was magical on top of a horse. He had this confidence about him and didn’t care about what people were going to think about him. He just got on and did what he thought was the right thing on a horse – and it normally was.” 

“He had an empathy for the animal and knew what a horse was thinking. He knew what a horse wanted, be it tough, soft, holding up or using his stride, and he always seemed to get it right.” 

Carson shared an insight into what Piggott was like in the weighing room.

He said: “Lester walked about with an aura about him and he always was in charge. Everyone looked up to him and watched him. He was also a very caring man. If a jockey sustained an injury and ended up in hospital, he would be one of the few to turn up and visit them.” 

“We had battles galore over the years and I look back with such fond memories.”

Coolmore chief John Magnier, for whom Piggott rode, labelled him “the greatest” and recalled a tale around the victory of the Michael Jarvis-trained Green God in the 1971 Haydock Sprint Cup.

Magnier said: “Obviously it is a sad day and there are so many stories and great memories for Sue and I.

“I remember meeting Lester in the parade ring before the 1971 Haydock Sprint Cup. A group of us had bought into Green God a couple of days before and Lester was up for what was to be the horse’s final race.

“’Don’t be looking for me at the furlong pole, I won’t be there until the line,’ he told me, and sure enough he produced him with his trademark impeccable timing.

“At this time of year MV was regularly frustrated by Lester playing musical chairs of what he would be riding in the Derby. But he said: ‘You have to put up with him, otherwise you give the opposition a 7lb advantage!’

“He really was the greatest. His family are in our thoughts today.” 

Nine of Piggott’s 30 British Classic winners were trained by the legendary Vincent O’Brien, whose son, trainer Charles, paid tribute to “an exceptionally good horseman, which I feel perhaps gets somewhat overlooked at times.” 

O’Brien said: “I think Lester and my Dad developed a sort of second sense for each other. They always managed to get their points across very succinctly.”    

“There was an awful lot of mutual respect between them and that’s probably why their relationship lasted so long – they both knew the other was as good as it got.

“I believe he first rode for my Dad in the late 1950s and Gladness, who won the 1958 Ebor and Gold Cup, was one of their first major successes. That was a bit before my time, but Lester was a constant around the place when I was growing up.” 

“In terms of instructions, there was never really an awful lot said. That was partly because there wasn’t much point giving them as he’d ignore them anyway! Secondly, he was well able to judge a race himself.”

Royal Academy’s Breeders’ Cup victory at Belmont is the race that sticks in the memory for O’Brien, who added: “That’s the standout day for me. I was working full-time at Ballydoyle then and went over there with my Dad not travelling at that time.”

“Funnily enough, I think it was the first time I’d seen Lester nervous before a race. Normally he was absolutely ice-cold, but this was a big deal as a 54-year-old. He was definitely anxious but rode a brilliant race. It was a very special occasion.”

John Gosden believes there “will never be another” like Piggott and said: “Lester was an extraordinary and totally unique man and jockey. I first knew him well in the 1970s when he was riding for Sir Noel Murless and Vincent O’Brien. They listened to and savoured everything he said, which could be quite minimalistic.”

“They certainly admired his race-riding and his feel for a horse on the gallops. He was famous for changing work instructions to suit himself to find out more, but that was typical Lester who was always a rule unto himself. There’ll never be another one like him.”

Piggot’s son Jamie, speaking from Switzerland, said on Sunday night: “He was both a wonderful father and a legend who we were all fortunate to witness.”

Jockeys gathered for a minute’s silence between the two Group 1 races at Longchamp on Sunday with an image of Piggott shown on the big screens.

Riders sported black armbands for the third race on the card and had the option of wearing them throughout the day.

A minute’s silence also took place before racing at Fontwell and Uttoxeter on Sunday and before the second race at Punchestown.

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Comments

  • brandli62  On 06/03/2022 at 4:16 am

    “Piggott, who died peacefully in Switzerland on May 29, 2022 having been in hospital recently.”

    Does anybody know, if he had his permanent residency in Switzerland?

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2022 at 5:37 am

    The Guardian UK wrote:

    IN 2012, PIGGOTT LEFT THE MARITAL HOME TO LIVE WITH BARBARA FITZGERALD IN GENEVA, AN ARRANGEMENT TO WHICH HIS WIFE GAVE HER PUBLIC BLESSING.

    • brandli62  On 06/03/2022 at 6:20 am

      Thanks, Duncan, for addressing my question! An interesting reason for relocation!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2022 at 6:03 am

    LESTER PIGGOTT OBITUARY

    One of the greatest British jockeys who won the Derby nine times

    JULIAN WILSON | The Guardian UK

    Lester Piggott, who has died aged 86, was regarded by many as the finest jockey ever to ride on British turf. His record in major races is unlikely to be surpassed. No other 20th-century jockey came close to his achievement. In all, he rode 4,493 winners in Britain and more than 850 elsewhere during a career that spanned 47 years, with major successes in France, Ireland, the US, Hong Kong and Singapore.

    Wherever he travelled, he was feted in a manner unique for a jockey. However, his career was dogged by controversy, leading to a jail sentence for tax fraud in 1987 AND THE WITHDRAWAL OF HIS OBE.

    Born in Wantage, Oxfordshire, Lester came from a horseracing family that stretched back over six generations, including such famous names as John Day, Tom Cannon and Fred Rickaby. His grandfather, Ernie Piggott, was a champion steeplechaser who won the Grand National three times, while his father, Keith, was one of the finest National Hunt jockeys of the pre-second world war era and won the Champion Hurdle in 1939 on African’s Sister. He was later to train a Grand National winner, Ayala, in 1963.

    LESTER’S MOTHER, IRIS (NEE RICKABY), CAME FROM THE RICKABY RACING DYNASTY.

    PIGGOTT FIRST SAT ON A RACEHORSE AT THE AGE OF SEVEN. On his 12th birthday, he became apprenticed to his father, who was now training at Lambourn, Berkshire. His schooling continued privately, two or three days a week; his first ride came on a horse called The Chase at Salisbury on 7 April 1948. Four months later, he rode his first winner on the same horse at Haydock, carrying 6st 9lb (42kg). NOWADAYS, NO ONE UNDER THE AGE OF 16 IS PERMITTED TO RIDE IN PUBLIC.

    In 1950 he had already become champion apprentice, but his determined, sometimes reckless riding was beginning to aggravate fellow riders and attract the attention of stewards. His first major punishment followed an altercation with the Australian jockey Scobie Breasley at Newbury in October 1950. Piggott’s mount, Barnacle, was disqualified and, to his great indignation, he was suspended for the rest of the season.

    His first mount in the Derby came in 1951 on the temperamental colt Zucchero, which finished unplaced. The following year, he finished second on Gay Time, and in 1954 won the first of his nine Derbys on Never Say Die. Already laconic and introspective, Piggott infuriated the press by commenting that it was “just another race”.

    Two weeks later at Royal Ascot, he encountered the first major setback to his career when the stewards arraigned him for reckless riding, following a complaint by Sir Gordon Richards.

    HE WAS SUSPENDED FOR SIX MONTHS AND TOLD THAT HE MUST LEAVE THE GUARDIANSHIP OF HIS FATHER, WHO WAS CONSIDERED A BAD INFLUENCE, AND BE APPRENTICED TO A NEWMARKET TRAINER. IT TOOK YEARS FOR PIGGOTT TO GET OVER THIS DEPRIVATION, WHICH, LIKE HIS JAIL SENTENCE LATER IN LIFE, HE REGARDED AS A WASTE OF TIME.

    At the end of his suspension, an opportunity arose that was to reshape his life. When Richards retired because of injury, the leading stable of Noel Murless, at Newmarket, was left without a jockey. After three others – one of them Breasley – had surprisingly turned down the job, Piggott was appointed. It was a partnership that was to thrive for 12 years.

    Murless was a determined, dedicated trainer of the old school. He was endlessly patient with his horses and would not allow them to be abused by jockeys. Piggott already had a reputation of being ruthless with the whip. Ground rules were laid down and Piggott treated his new employer with the respect that he demanded.

    Over the coming years, both men reached the pinnacles of their professions. Murless became champion trainer in four years out of five between 1957 and 1961, and a further four times subsequently. Piggott, meanwhile, set about establishing his classic record, becoming champion jockey for the first of 11 times in 1960. It was always supposed that increasing weight would eventually destroy his career, but Piggott overcame this by largely giving up eating. He existed on the most stringent diet and was still able to ride at 8st 7lb (54kg) at the end of his career, 35 years later.

    Piggott and Murless’s first great year together was 1957, when Crepello won the 2000 Guineas and Derby, and Carrozza won the Oaks in the Queen’s colours. MANY, INCLUDING MURLESS AND RICHARDS, FELT THAT PIGGOTT’S RIDE ON CARROZZA WAS THE GREATEST OF HIS CAREER. IT CERTAINLY ENDEARED HIM TO THE QUEEN, AND IN 1975 HE WAS APPOINTED OBE.

    Piggott was perhaps at the height of his powers in 1965, when he rode eight winners at Royal Ascot and cost bookmakers millions of pounds. He was increasingly in demand, notably by the Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien. A conflict arose between his desire to ride for O’Brien and others in big races, and his retainer to ride for Murless. As always, Piggott wanted the best of both worlds, but Murless would not countenance his demands to be “let off” when required. The partnership ended in 1966 and Piggott, soon after, reshaped the future of riding contracts.

    Between 1967 and 1974 he rode as a freelance all over Europe, while in 1977 he tied himself to riding for Robert Sangster. UNTIL THEN, JOCKEYS’ CONTRACTS WITH OWNERS RATHER THAN TRAINERS WERE RARE, WHEREAS NOW THEY ARE THE NORM IN THE CASE OF WEALTHY ARAB OWNERS. Piggott’s vision earned the top jockeys millions of pounds in the 1980s and 90s.

    A side-effect of Piggott’s freelance status was an upsurge in his predatory nature. No jockey was safe on a Derby runner if Piggott was without a fancied ride. His rapacity came to a head when he contrived to secure the mount on Roberto, trained by O’Brien, in 1972, on the grounds that O’Brien’s jockey, Bill Williamson, was unfit following a shoulder injury.

    Piggott rode a brilliant race to win in a photo-finish, but opinions were divided over the morality of his engagement, and Williamson never forgave him. Piggott had already ridden two Derby winners for O’Brien in Sir Ivor – “this is a racing machine,” he told O’Brien – and Nijinsky, arguably the two best colts he ever rode. His mastery of the unique Epsom course was famous and his riding of The Minstrel for O’Brien in 1977 became part of Derby lore.

    He was less successful in Europe’s richest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, and it took 17 attempts to secure his first success, on Rheingold in 1973. But on Alleged, trained by O’Brien, he won the great race in 1977 and 1978, showing masterful judgment on both occasions.

    Despite the success they had shared, by 1980 O’Brien and Sangster, his principal patron, had become weary of Piggott’s whimsical ways, personal agenda and excessive financial demands. To Piggott’s chagrin, they ended his contract and employed the much younger Irishman Pat Eddery.

    Piggott, predictably, bounced back and secured the position as stable jockey to Henry Cecil, who had been champion trainer in three of the past five years. For Piggott, it meant not only a return to the Warren Place stables at Newmarket, which Cecil had inherited from his father-in-law, Murless, but also a return to being champion jockey for the first time in 10 years.

    However, the success of the new team over the next three years led to Piggott’s downfall. A copy of a letter written by Cecil to his owners in 1982 relating to special payments and rewards for Piggott was sold to a Fleet Street newspaper. ITS PUBLICATION LED TO PUNISHMENT FOR CECIL, BUT ALSO THE PROSECUTION OF PIGGOTT FOR TAX EVASION.

    This volcano took five years to erupt. Meanwhile, Piggott split with Cecil in 1984 following a rift with the Wildenstein family, a leading force in French racing, who demanded that other jockeys should ride their horses. Piggott spent what he intended to be his final year as a jockey riding as a freelance, and brought down the curtain at Nottingham on 29 October 1985. He was granted a licence to train under Jockey Club rules and set up his new business at the Eve Lodge Stables, Newmarket, which he had built several years earlier.

    Within three months his world was to fall apart. His home was raided by police and Inland Revenue officers, and accounts and documents were seized. He was arrested and charged with making a false statement, and in October 1987 the case came to court at Ipswich.

    There were 10 charges, alleging that Piggott had failed to declare income of more than £3m on which he had evaded tax of around £1.7m. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, a record for tax evasion. He spent his incarceration at Highpoint prison, near Haverhill, less than 20 miles from Newmarket, and was released after 12 months.

    WHILE PIGGOTT WAS IN PRISON, THE RACING STABLE WAS MANAGED BY HIS WIFE, SUSAN (NEE ARMSTRONG), THE DAUGHTER OF A NEWMARKET TRAINER, WHOM HE HAD MARRIED IN 1960. She continued to hold the training licence upon his release. Piggott was outwardly unemotional throughout his ordeal, but was bitterly hurt by the withdrawal of his OBE.

    For the following two years, he kept a relatively low profile, but in October 1990 he stunned the racing world by applying for a renewal of his jockey’s licence. He resumed riding at Leicester the following week, rode a winner at Chepstow the following day, and within 12 days had ridden one of his greatest races to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Belmont Park, New York, worth $500,000, on Royal Academy, trained by his old ally O’Brien.

    His comeback was a rollercoaster lasting a further four seasons, and in 1992 included a 30th classic success on Rodrigo de Triano in the 2000 Guineas. In the spring of 1995, he did not renew his licence and finally, in September of that year, he admitted that his career was at an end.

    AS PIGGOTT ENTERED HIS NINTH DECADE THERE WERE CALLS FROM SOME IN THE RACING FRATERNITY NOT ONLY FOR THE RESTORATION OF HIS OBE, BUT FOR HIM TO BE KNIGHTED.

    Though neither of those things happened, at the 2017 Royal Ascot meeting there was a warm greeting from the Queen which suggested that she had, personally at least, forgiven him.

    IN 2012, PIGGOTT LEFT THE MARITAL HOME TO LIVE WITH BARBARA FITZGERALD IN GENEVA, AN ARRANGEMENT TO WHICH HIS WIFE GAVE HER PUBLIC BLESSING. He is survived by Barbara, by Susan, their daughters, Maureen and Tracy, and his son, Jamie, by his former assistant Anna Ludlow.

    Lester Keith Piggott, jockey, born 5 November 1935; died 29 May 2022

    Julian Wilson died in 2014

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/03/2022 at 1:56 pm

    LESTER’S MOTHER, IRIS (NEE RICKABY), CAME FROM THE RICKABY RACING DYNASTY. …. Aargh, that Rickaby Dynasty!!

    Fred Rickaby: JOCKEY

    Fred Rickaby was a successful jockey and member of a famous horse-racing dynasty who fully lived up to its illustrious tradition.

    The Times UK

    His father, also called Fred, was the retained jockey for George Lambton, the trainer in Lord Derby’s Stanley House Stables in Newmarket — a position which his own father (another Fred) had held before him. Both were classic-winning jockeys, while his great-great-grandfather (yet another Fred Rickaby) had trained Wild Dayrell to win the Derby in 1855. Rickaby’s father was killed while serving with the Royal Tank Corps in France in 1918, aged only 24, leaving Fred and his younger brother Bill (who was to enjoy a long and distinguished career as one of Britain’s leading jockeys) to be brought up by their mother.

    The Rickaby family’s achievements in racing have been extensive. FRED’S COUSIN WAS LESTER PIGGOTT and his uncle was Walter Griggs, the Newmarket trainer to whom he became apprenticed, aged 13. Fred was an instant success as a jockey, riding his first winner on Fifty-50 at Newmarket in May 1930.

    The following season he was champion apprentice with 44 winners. In 1932, he was appointed, although still an apprentice, to the position of retained jockey for Lord Glanely, succeeding Gordon Richards. The biggest win for his new employer was the 1932 Yorkshire Oaks on Nash Light (in a dead-heat with Gordon Richards). Unfortunately, his increasing weight ended his hugely promising Flat race-riding career at the age of 17.

    In 1934 Rickaby took up a position as a pupil assistant to Lord Derby’s trainer Colledge Leader (who had succeeded George Lambton to the post at the end of the previous year) at Stanley House. The stable that year included the previous year’s Derby winner (and subsequent champion sire) Hyperion, whom Rickaby rode in some of his gallops. Race-riding, though, proved to be a habit that was hard to break, and he took out a National Hunt jockey’s licence. He enjoyed a degree of success, finishing third in two Champion Hurdles (on Carton in 1940 and Southport in 1942).

    After the war he rode a double at Aintree, winning the Coronation Hurdle on Red Fife and the Lancashire Hurdle on Gay Scot, and partnered National Spirit, subsequent Champion Hurdle winner, to victory in the Princess Elizabeth Hurdle at Doncaster. His National Hunt career was, however, considerably less extensive than it would have been but for the war, during which he served in the RAF, flying Spitfires and being awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC) and Bar. He was already an experienced flyer before the outbreak of hostilities, having been a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

    As he began to wind down his race-riding career after the war, Rickaby briefly kept a pub (the Wheatsheaf in Alwalton, near Peterborough) but, anxious to escape the postwar austerity and rationing, he emigrated to South Africa with his wife and two sons in September 1947, at the suggestion of the champion South African jockey “Tiger” Wright, who had been riding in England that summer. Rickaby’s recollection of his arrival was that “I had expected it to be different from England and that was why I had come, but the contrast was extreme … The glorious climate and general love of life was infectious. By God! I was glad to be here.”

    Rickaby initially set up as a trainer, first near and then in Johannesburg, but struggled to establish his business on a sound financial footing, and in 1952 he moved to Durban. He never looked back. Thanks to the patronage of Douglas Saunders, the former chairman of the Durban Turf Club, and his son Chris, classic wins swiftly followed, firstly with Beau Sabreur in the Natal Derby and, in 1958, Aztec in the country’s premier classic, the Cape of Good Hope Derby.

    In 1967 Rickaby, along with the other trainers in Durban’s Newmarket training complex, was relocated to the new Summerveld Centre outside the city, and from here he sent out the best of his champions: Durban July Handicap winners, Jollify in 1967 (ridden by the stable apprentice John Gorton, subsequently a classic-winning jockey in Britain), Naval Escort in 1969 and Sledgehammer (“by far the best horse I ever trained”), Horse of the Year in 1974-75. Sledgehammer, owned by Cyril and Peggy Hurvitz and ridden by Rickaby’s stable jockey, Michael Roberts (then in the early stages of a glittering career during which he was crowned Britain’s champion jockey in 1992), won more big races the following season, at the end of which, further assisted by the victory of Majestic Crown in the Holiday Inns Handicap (then South Africa’s biggest race), he was crowned champion trainer. Two years later he retired.

    After the death of his second wife, the journalist and author Molly Reinhardt, Fred Rickaby returned to Britain in the mid-1980s. Living near Newmarket, he continued in retirement to practise equine physiotherapy for various trainers in the town. A supremely gifted horseman, his knowledge of equine physiology was immense and he was invariably happy to share his expertise with younger generations. He also passed on some of his wisdom via the two books which he had written in South Africa, the first, Are Your horses Trying?, primarily a training textbook, and the second, More Trying Horses, a volume of memoirs.

    He is survived by one son.

    Fred Rickaby, jockey, AFC and Bar, was born on February 26, 1916. He died on January 30, 2010, aged 93

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/04/2022 at 11:18 am

    Yvette Madhoo wrote:

    WOW!! Lester Piggott died? Oh my gosh. I always remember him with the horse races. He was surely a winner.

    I am so sorry 😞 to hear.

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