Lester Piggott – Born 5 November 1935
In the same way that Fred Archer ranks as Britain’s greatest jockey of the 19th century Piggott holds a similar place in the 20th pantheon. The similarities between the two great riders do not though end there.
Like Archer, Piggott was ultra-competitive and single-minded. Furthermore, he too was very tall for a Flat jockey, only able to stay light enough to ride on the Flat thanks to iron self-discipline. And he too came from a National Hunt background: his grandfather Ernie rode three Grand National winners while his father Keith trained Ayala to win the great steeplechase in 1963.
Indeed, Lester Piggott himself looked destined for the jumps at one stage of his youth: he rode 20 winners over hurdles, including partnering Prince Charlemagne to victory in the Triumph Hurdle at Hurst Park in 1954.
Apprenticed to his father in Lambourn, Lester Piggott was an instant success as a race-rider, landing his first victory on The Chase at Haydock Park in 1948, aged just 12.
He had his first ride in the Derby aged 16 in 1952 on Gay Time (who finished runner-up to Tulyar, ridden by the veteran Charlie Smirke) and then recorded the first of his unequalled nine victories in the race by winning on the Joe Lawson-trained Never Say Die two years later.
Champion jockey of Britain 11 times between 1960 and 1982, Lester Piggott rode 30 British Classic winners and partnered many of the greatest horses of modern racing history, headed by the 1970 Triple Crown winner Nijinsky and also including the likes of Crepello, Petite Etoile, St Paddy, Gladness, Sir Ivor, Roberto, Rheingold, The Minstrel, Alleged, Ardross and Royal Academy. From the mid 1950s to the early ‘80s, Lester Piggott was the most successful jockey in Europe and rode
for all of the leading trainers in Britain, Ireland and France at various times. However, his associations with three stables stand out, his partnerships with Noel Murless, Vincent O’Brien and Henry Cecil ranking as a succession of golden eras. His association with Murless saw him moving to Newmarket early in his career.
In a short-lasting ‘retirement’ in the ‘80s, Piggott trained from Eve Lodge Stables in Newmarket’s Hamilton Road, most notably sending out Cutting Blade to win the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1986.
Lester Piggott’s brief stint as a trainer ended when he was convicted of tax evasion in 1987. When he had served the resultant prison sentence, he resumed work not as a trainer but as a jockey, returning to race-riding just short of his 55th birthday and recording a breath-taking victory on the Vincent O’Brien-trained Royal Academy in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile in New York.
Lester Piggott finally retired from the saddle in 1994 with a career total of 4,493 winners, having combined with his old ally Vincent O’Brien to post a final and emotional Royal Ascot curtain call with College Chapel in the Cork And Orrery Stakes at the previous year’s Royal Meeting.