A few days before the Epsom Derby, we learned of the passing of one of the greatest jockeys the world has ever seen – maybe the greatest – Lester Piggott. He had a varied life and was not always the most popular with his peers, and he was always fiercely competitive in a race; and was never shy into jockeying off a named jockey for a race if he thought he would win. In fact, as a person, Lester was a shy person and was quite badly deaf. He won so many Group 1 races and classics, the list is frankly endless. He won no less than 4,493 races in Great Britain alone and approximately another 1,000 races abroad. He won the Epsom Derby a record 9 times. Perhaps his most brilliant victory was in New York for the Breeders Cup when he rode Royal Academy to victory. After spending a spell in prison for tax evasion, Piggott was asked to come out of retirement to ride the horse by trainer Vincent O’Brien. The pair were ridiculed by many for such an arrangement and when Lester was asked before the race how he expected to get on, he simply replied “watch and learn”. In the short straight, Piggott was at the back of the field and when he finally asked the horse ‘to go’. Coming round the outside of the whole field, not easy to accomplish on such a narrow track, the response was electrifying and he won by a neck. It was truly one of the most exciting races ever seen for the brilliance of the horse and the masterful riding of the jockey. In retirement, Lester Piggott started a training and sent our 34 winners in his first year before being sent to prison in 1985. He spent a year there before returning to the saddle when apart from his win on Royal Academy, he also added to his classic score by winning the Newmarket Two Thousand Guineas on Rodrigo de Triano in 1992. He finally retired from race riding in 1995. He lived the rest of his life mainly in Switzerland estranged from his wife Susan, who he married in 1960. He had two daughters, Tracy and Maureen. Maureen is married to top Newmarket trainer William Haggas.
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