Legendary jockey Lester Piggott dies aged 86

Legendary jockey Lester Piggott dies aged 86

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Tributes have flooded in for horse racing legend Lester Piggott, considered one of the greatest jockeys in the 20th century, who has died aged 86.

The nine-time Derby winner, who had a 46 year career and notched up a total of 4,493 wins, passed away a week after he was admitted to hospital in Switzerland, his family announced today.

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 amongst his 30 British Classics together with 11 Champion Jockey titles.’

Sir Michael Stoute was also quick to pay tribute to Piggott and says he will forever be grateful to Piggott for helping get his training career off the ground.

Piggott rode both an English and Irish Classic winner for the Newmarket trainer, who saddles the likely favourite Desert Crown in Saturday’s Cazoo Derby at Epsom.

‘It is sad news,’ said Stoute. ‘He rode my first winner on the Rowley Mile on a horse called Sandal, who was owned by my father, in 1972.

‘He won the Irish Derby on Shergar (1981) and he won the 2000 Guineas on Shadeed (1985), as Walter (Swinburn) was suspended for both of those. He was super-sub and he was not a bad sub!

‘Lester was a genius on a racehorse. I don’t think there has been anyone better.’

Stoute added: ‘Lester could be very entertaining when he was in the mood – he had a great sense of humour. But he was tough to talk to at times.

‘In 1980, actually, he had the pick of plenty of mine, with the hope of carrying that on, but he had fallen out with a few people by that stage.

‘He is an icon, a brilliant jockey. Many have tried to be like him and no one has come close.’

His cause of death or reason for his hospital admission has not been revealed, but his family told yesterday how his condition appeared to be ‘improving’ and they hoped he would seen be returning home.

Piggot’s son-in-law, Derby-winning trainer William Haggas, today said: ‘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.’  

Speaking at Haydock Park on Saturday, his daughter Maureen Haggas, had said he was ‘much better’ than earlier in the week.

She said: ‘I went to see him earlier in the week and he’s improving, which is good news. He’s much better than he was earlier in the week and hopefully he’ll be going home on either Monday or Tuesday.’ 

Unquestionably one of the greatest jockeys of all time, Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock in 1948 when he was just 12 years of age.

Legendary jockey and nine-time Derby winner Lester Piggott 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 he was just 12 years of age

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

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.    

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 10 of those coming in the Gold Cup.

Piggott was admitted to intensive care back in 2007 due to a recurrence of a heart problem, but made a swift recovery.

In 1961, Piggott married Susan Armstrong, the daughter of trainer Sam Armstrong, and the couple moved to Newmarket.

They later separated but remained married, with Piggott moving to Switzerland. Eldest daughter Maureen is married to Derby-winning trainer William Haggas and youngest daughter Tracy is a sports broadcaster with RTE in Ireland.

Piggott also leaves a son, Jamie, from a relationship with Anna Ludlow, his personal assistant at the time.

The Queen and Lester Piggott view the Lester Piggott Gates at Epsom racecourse before the Derby in 1996

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

In 1961, Piggott married Susan Armstrong, the daughter of trainer Sam Armstrong, and the couple moved to Newmarket. They later separated but remained married, with Piggott moving to Switzerland

Eldest daughter Maureen is married to Derby-winning trainer William Haggas and youngest daughter Tracy (pictured) is a sports broadcaster with RTE in Ireland 

Piggott also leaves a son, Jamie, from a relationship with Anna Ludlow, his personal assistant at the time

Piggott receiving the Ritz Club trophy from the Queen Mother in 1981

Willie Carson also paid tribute to Piggott. Carson and Piggott held sway on the track in the 1970s and 80s when both jockeys were in their pomp. 

Five-times champion Carson said he felt like a part of him had died with the most iconic racing figure of the 20th century.

‘I feel as though I have lost part of my life in 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.’

Piggott was known for his single-mindedness and was not averse to phoning up trainers to get rides he thought he could win on, regardless of the incumbent jockey.

Carson added: ‘He was confident. He had the confidence, because he didn’t care about others, where normal people worry about doing the wrong thing.

‘That man, for some reason, never showed any pressure. He never seemed to be under any pressure. He rode his horses with such great confidence.

‘I wouldn’t call him a close friend, but as the years go on, the more endearing you are to one another – we had a racing life together and I wish I had been as good as him.’

Asked if there had been anyone better before or since Piggott, the Stirling-born winner of 17 British Classics added: ‘Maybe Gordon Richards and possibly you might put Frankie Dettori up there – those are the three iconic jockeys in the last 250 years.’

Willie Carson (left) also paid tribute to Piggott. Carson and Piggott held sway on the track in the 1970s and 80s when both jockeys were in their pomp

It comes just a week after he was taken to hospital in Switzerland and was said to be improving by his daughter Maureen Haggas, with the hope he would return to his home next week. It is currently unclear how he died. Pictured: Piggott on Desert Orchid in 1998

Piggott taking part in a celebrity parade in 1997 aboard Desert Orchid at Wincanton, with his son Jamie, who took part on a pony

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

Carson added that he was hopeful that his great rival had begun to pull through after being hospitalised last week and hopes were high that he had recovered enough in time to go home over the next few days.

‘That is the worst part,’ said Carson. ‘That has made things worse – I was drafting a letter in my head for a card to say “welcome home” for when he got out.

‘It is so sad. Part of my life has gone – that is how I feel.’

Piggott was the ‘housewives’ favourite’, particularly when it came to riding in races such as the Derby, and Dettori has long since taken up the baton as the sport’s flag-bearer.

The Italian had a close relationship with Piggott through the pair’s association with the late bookmaker turned gambler and charity fund raiser Barney Curley.

Three-time champion Frankie Dettori said: ‘It is a shock when you hear news like that. He has been part of our lives forever 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.

‘I kind of got close to him personally, because obviously we were both good friends with Barney (Curley), and Lester was a good friend to me. He will never be forgotten.’

KEY MOMENTS IN THE CAREER OF LESTER PIGGOTT

1948: Piggott, aged 12, has his first ride in public on The Chase at Salisbury on April 7. The horse provides him with his first success at Haydock on August 18.

1950: He rides 52 winners as he finishes the season champion apprentice.

1954: Piggott, now 18, partners Never Say Die (33-1) to the first of his nine Derby victories.

1960: Successes in the Derby and St Leger help to win a first jockeys’ championship with 170 successes. Marries Susan Armstrong on February 22.

1965: Rides eight winners at Royal Ascot, a score bettered only by Sir Gordon Richards with nine.

1966: Piggott wins fourth championship with his highest ever total 191, 94 clear of his nearest rival.

1970: Wins 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger on Nijinsky, the first horse to win the Triple Crown for 35 years. The pair also finish second in the Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

1973: Rides Rheingold to record his first success in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe after 16 previous failures.

1975: Awarded OBE.

1976: Rides record seventh Derby winner on Empery.

1977: As contract rider to pools magnate Robert Sangster, Piggott wins the Derby, Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on The Minstrel.

1981: Having split with Sangster the previous year, Piggott – now attached to Henry Cecil – wins 1000 Guineas on Fairy Footsteps a week after nearly losing an ear in a starting stalls accident.

1982: Wins the last of his 11 jockeys’ championships.

1983: Teenoso carries him to his ninth win in the Derby.

1984: Piggott breaks record set by Frank Buckle 157 years previously when winning 28th classic on Commanche Run in the St Leger. Loses job with Cecil, who signs up Steve Cauthen.

1985: Retirement is announced at end of season. Rides 29th classic winner, Shadeed in the 2000 Guineas, but records only 34 victories, the last of which is on Full Choke at Nottingham, bringing career total to 4,349. Finishes second on final ride.

1986: Piggott sets up as trainer in Newmarket, saddling 30 winners including one at Royal Ascot.

1987: Wins first Classic as trainer with Lady Bentley in the Italian Oaks. Jailed for three years for tax evasion in October.

1988: Stripped of OBE. Released from prison after serving a year of sentence.

1989: Returns to saddle with three rides in Peru.

1990: Return to race riding announced and Piggott finishes close second on first ride back. Rides first winner of comeback on Nicholas, trained by wife Susan, at Chepstow. Gains memorable triumph in 1million Breeders’ Cup Mile in New York on Royal Academy.

1992: Wins 30th British classic on Rodrigo De Triano, owned by Sangster, in 2000 Guineas. The pair also collect the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes to earn tilt at Breeders’ Cup Classic. Fractures collar-bone and breaks two ribs in horror fall from Mr Brooks in opening race of Breeders’ Cup meeting in Miami, Florida .

1994: Rides last winner, Palacegate Jack, at Haydock on October 6.

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 10 of those coming in the Gold Cup. Pictured in 1948

Piggott was admitted to intensive care back in 2007 due to a recurrence of a heart problem, but made a swift recovery. Pictured in 1960

Piggott at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire for Royal Ascot in 1964

Piggott riding Free Guest in 1985

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, I remember before the Juddmonte, when he’d had time off and I brought him back and galloped him. Lester rode him, he pulled up and the first words he said to me were “if you’d had him this right for the Derby I wouldn’t have come off the bridle.” That was just Lester.

‘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.’

Lester Piggott’s thirst for success knew no boundaries – at times, dangerously – and his life really was too far-fetched to be a novel… but The Long Fellow’s obsession with winning made him perhaps the Greatest jockey of all time

ByMarcus Townend for MailOnline

Lester Piggott, arguably the 20th century’s most iconic racing figure, has died at the age of 86.

Piggott had been in hospital in Switzerland where he moved to live in 2012. That move in retirement may have meant he was largely out of the public eye but the Piggott name remained synonymous with racing, and over 25 years after his riding retirement he remained one of the few jockeys members of the general public would still be able to name.

The word legend can be thrown around like confetti but in Piggott’s case it was undoubtedly true.

Sir Gordon Richards may have been champion jockey more times – 26 as opposed to 11 – but Piggott will forever be remembered as a winning machine in the saddle, a rider whose quest for success was obsessive as well as mind-boggling.

You could use a dictionary of adjectives to try to sum up Piggott – some of them surprising – and still not get close to summing him up.

Complex, compelling, introverted, mischievous, miserly, ruthless, shy, uncompromising, unique, flawed. Take your pick.

Each one could be an adjective linked to a jockey who won his first race at 12 years old and went to win 4,493 more in Britain (around 5,300 worldwide), including a record 30 Classics and nine Derbys before finally retiring when he was 57.

Lester Piggott, arguably the 20th century’s most iconic racing figure, has died at age of 86

Competing during an era of charismatic sporting superstars headed by motor-mouth Muhammed Ali, the Piggott legend was built around silence.

Partially deaf and with a speech impediment, to the public he was a distant and unlikely hero. He said little, at least audibly, and rarely smiled.

Old Stoneface, with his craggy features, had his eyes focused on winning, and punters loved it.

What he would do every year in the Derby became a national obsession.

Punters signed up to the fan club of the jockey with a style only fools tried to imitate as he folded his 5ft 8in frame in two, his bottom perched high like a shark’s fin as he hunted down his prey.

The Long Fellow, another nickname because he boiled down his body to two stone under its natural weight on a diet of cigars and fresh air, had married Susan Armstrong, daughter of Newmarket trainer Sam Armstrong, in 1960.

By then he was already an established winning machine and master tactician whose natural talent was to re-write racing history with a thirst for success which, at times, knew no boundaries.

That disregard of rules on occasions saw him clash with the racing authorities and ultimately crash to earth and spend a year in prison for tax evasion.

Yet from that nadir, at the age 54, Piggott wrote possibly the most remarkable chapter of his life by returning to the saddle and winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Vincent O’Brien’s Royal Academy 12 days after his release in front of 100,000 spectators at Belmont Park in New York.

If the Piggott story had been penned as a novel, it would have been in danger of been dismissed as far-fetched.

Certainly, no-one who witnessed that first success on The Chase at Haydock on August 18, 1948 (his first ride had been in April that year on the same horse at Salisbury) could have predicted the path that the then angelic-looking boy would tread.

But even those early days, the fierce will to win surged through his veins, cultivated by his father Keith, himself a capable jump jockey with over 500 winners and who later trained 1963 Grand National winner Ayala.

Racing was in Piggott’s blood. His grandfather Ernie rode three Grand National winners and was champion jump jockey three times. His mother Lilian hailed from the Rickaby racing family.

Piggott spent a year in prison for tax evasion and as a result forfeited his OBE and the near certainty of a knighthood. Pictured the former jockey greets the Queen at the Epsom Derby

Piggott as an apprentice jockey at his father’s training stable at Lambourn in 1950

During those early riding years, it is clamed Piggott’s father was determined to toughen his son up and pitted him against bigger stronger opposition in boxing matches within the stable.

The result was a driven teenage sensation.

Despite attempts by Berkshire County Council to prevent the youngster riding full time, Lester was champion apprentice in both 1950 and 1951. His first Derby ride came on unplaced Zucchero in that second year.

Three years later, 33-1 outsider Never Say Die gave Piggott his first win in the premier Classic when only 18. He celebrated that evening by mowing his parents’ lawn.

At the time he was also riding over jumps. Eldoret was his first win at Wincanton on Boxing Day 1953 and he landed the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival that season on Prince Charlemagne.

But only days after that first Derby win in 1954, the stewards, seemingly frustrated by his lack of respect, banned him for the rest of the season for an overly aggressive ride on Never Say Die in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.

It meant he missed Never Say Die’s St Leger win but proved no hinderance to his progress.

Derby success on Crepello in 1957 and St Paddy in 1960 came as he rode for hugely respected royal trainer Noel Murless but it was not enough.

Piggott wanted to be on the best horses all the time no matter who trained them and the restrictions of being a stable jockey prevented that.

In 1967, he broke with convention and turned freelance. The move allowed him to forged a lucrative relationship with Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien and owner Robert Sangster.

At times Piggott’s selfish approach when he tested out horses on the gallops and ignored O’Brien’s orders were a huge frustration but he delivered the trainer five Derby wins.

Sir Ivor 1968 was the one Piggott picked out as the best but 1970 Triple Crown winner Nijinsky was the one with the highest profile.

The Minstrel edging out Willie Carson in 1977 when Piggott was at his strongest and most liberal with the whip was arguably the most memorable.

With Piggott on the prowl for rides, his weighing room rivals were nervously glancing over their shoulders. No-one was safe.

One of the best known examples came with Commanche Run, the 1984 St Leger winner.

Piggott had deputised for suspended American jockey Darrel McHargue when the Luca Cumani-trained colt had won its trial at Goodwood and was determined it would be his mount.

A pressurised owner Ivan Allan later recalled: ‘I remember him telling me that McHargue couldn’t ride a bicycle and I’d better put him on the horse.’

When the news emerged of his ‘jocking off’ a disgruntled McHargue told reporters he would spend St Leger day playing tennis instead.

As he read that on his way up to Doncaster while rain fell, Piggott reportedly turned to his travelling companion and unrepentantly quipped: ‘He won’t be doing that either.’

Two weeks later, McHargue’s contract with Cumani was ended.

It is just one of the stories recalling Piggott’s quick wit.

When the trainer Ben Leigh, who averaged fewer than 10 winners a season, was unhappy with a ride Piggott had given his horse in a selling race at Sandown he loudly told the jockey: ‘You’ll never ride for me again.’

‘Well I’d better pack it in then, hadn’t I?’ Piggott responded.

When trainer Jeremy Tree once asked him: ‘I’ve got to speak to my old school, Lester, all the boys at Eton, and tell them all I know about racing. What shall I say?’

After a pause, Piggott replied: ‘Tell ’em you have flu.’

Another memorable incident came in the 1979 Grand Prix de Deauville when Piggott, having dropped his whip riding runner-up African Hope, grabbed the stick of leading French jockey Alain Lequeux as his mount needed extra encouragement.

‘I thought he was beat,’ claimed Piggott, whose explanation that Lequeux had handed the whip over voluntarily were dashed by his French colleague’s lack of English. His mount was demoted by the stewards.

Piggott’s father Keith (left) was also a successful jockey but his son’s achievements dwarfed his

But, if Piggott was obsessed with winning, he was equally focused on money, a careful attitude imbued in him since childhood.

But simple parsimony unfortunately turned to law breaking. Piggott’s massive reputation in the saddle meant he could name his own price to ride and frequently did.

Income was stashed away and tax ignored, with Piggott blaming his lack of education as cause of him not realising his obligations.

In the mid-1980s, horseracing figures were already under wider scrutiny from the Inland Revenue.

A fruitful time as stable jockey to Henry Cecil had ended in 1984 and at the end of the 1985 season – after two rides at Nottingham on October 29 including a win on Full Choke – Piggott retired to set up as a trainer in Newmarket where, at his peak, he had almost 100 horses in his care.

But a secret letter had emerged from Cecil asking his owners to pay a secret retainer in cash (compounding the suspicion with orders to destroy the letter).

Despite strenuous efforts to keep the story quiet, the affair finally became public. Even so, Piggott might still have escaped with a hefty demand plus interest, together with VAT.

But he made the error of failing to admit to all of his bank accounts when the Inland Revenue inspectors knew, through Special Branch and other sources, that he had numerous others. 

1970 Triple Crown winner Nijinsky (left) was the highest profile horse he was connected to

Piggott was crowned champion jockey 11 times and racked up 4,493 race wins in Britain

The case finally came to court on October 23, 1987. Despite having already repaid £3.25million to the Inland Revenue as well as the full sum demanded by Customs and Excise (VAT) he was sentenced to three years in jail. He was released on bail 366 days later from Highpoint prison, near Bury St Edmunds.

It was a terrible fall from grace from one of Britain’s most high-profile sporting stars. He forfeited his OBE and the near certainty of a knighthood but Piggott sought sanctuary in the one thing he knew – riding horses and that Breeders’ Cup ride.

He was to ride one more Classic winner – Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Rodrigo De Triano in the 1992 2,000 Guineas and, with perfect symmetry, his last win came on board Palacegate Jack on October 5 1994 at Haydock, the track where it had all begun, and a statue stands at the Merseyside course to commemorate the achievements.

A month later his last professional ride was unplaced on M r Confusion in the November Handicap at Doncaster.

In his ‘second’ retirement, Piggott initially kept riding out for his son-in-law, Derby winning Newmarket trainer William Haggas, who married his eldest daughter Maureen.

Younger daughter Tracy continues to work as a TV racing presenter in Ireland while Piggott’s marriage to Susan, which had survived the birth of a son Jamie with his former assistant Anna Ludlow in 1994, drifted to an end as he spent time with a new partner Barbara living in Switzerland.

When the Professional Jockeys Association inaugurated their annual awards in 1990 – their version of the Oscars – they chose the name Lesters for their prized statuettes.

It was a decision which reflected their respect for jockey seen as one of the all-time greats. Many believe the Greatest. 

Piggott won 30 Classics and is seen as one of the all-time greats. Many believe the Greatest

Piggott rode a classic winner, Carrozza, in the 1957 Oaks at Epsom Racecourse, for the Queen

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