Sport

Lester Piggott was the greatest jockey of all, his incredible success on the track as eventful as life off it

IN the sport of kings he wore the crown.

He was the greatest jockey of all, with a record nine Epsom Derby triumphs under 30 classic wins.

Piggott will go down in history as one of the greatest jockeys of all time

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Piggott will go down in history as one of the greatest jockeys of all timePhoto credit: Getty
He had a great friendship with Frankie Dettori

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He had a great friendship with Frankie DettoriCredit: Rex Features

But Lester Piggott, who has died aged 86, was the most unlikely superstar and a man of contradictions.

He was Zorro and he was Scrooge. He was the dashing 11-time Jockey Champion, regarded by many rivals as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

He drove Sieger for the Queen but was serving time for Her Majesty’s pleasure.

He was the child prodigy who, in his 60th year, saddled the last of 4,493 winners.

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At 5 feet 8 inches, Piggott was taller than an ordinary jockey

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At 5 feet 8 inches, Piggott was taller than an ordinary jockeyCredit: PA
He was also known for his hilarious personality as well as his racing skills

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He was also known for his hilarious personality as well as his racing skillsCredit: PA

Adored by punters, he was known as the “housewives’ favourite” because he broadened the appeal of racing – and betting. But in the weighing room he was more of a loner.

Piggott, one of England’s most famous men during his long glory years, despised the limelight.

While other athletes of his generation enjoyed a rock-style lifestyle, Piggott — who was born partially deaf and spoke with a disability — was taciturn and reclusive.

In a way, this created an even greater aura around him.

After his death, honors have been received

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After his death, honors have been receivedCredit: PA
He often took part in the races after he retired

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He often took part in the races after he retiredCredit: PA

English football’s top scorer Jimmy Greaves considered Piggott his ultimate sporting hero. Greaves even had a golden retriever named Lester in honor of the jockey.

Not that Piggott’s shyness should be confused with modesty. After winning the USA in 1969, when asked by a reporter when he knew he would win the race, he replied: “About two weeks ago.”

Piggott was competitive on and off the track to the point of ruthlessness – notorious for his hard use of the whip and his tendency to ‘hoist’ his rivals off the most coveted rides.

Making a comeback in 1990 after serving a year in prison for tax fraud, a veteran Piggott went up against a young Frankie Dettori who would tease him about his advanced age.

During a race at Glorious Goodwood, Dettori recalled Piggott “reaching over, grabbing me between the legs and squeezing hard” right behind him, causing the Italian “eye-watering pain”.

“This will teach you to be cocky, you little bastard,” Piggott said to Dettori.

But Piggott was also inconsiderate to himself. At 5ft 8in he was tall for a jockey and he rode consistently at 8.5lbs – 30lbs under his natural weight, known to be on a diet of cigars and the occasional stick of Yorkie bar lived.

When he retired, Piggott quipped, “Eating is going to be a whole new ball game, I might even have to buy new pants.”

Piggott was born on November 5, 1935 in Wantage, Berkshire to a family whose roots in horse racing stretch back to the 18th century – his father and grandfather were both successful National Hunt jockeys.

He drove his first winner in 1948 at Haydock aged just 12 and won his first derby aged 18 driving Never Say Die to stardom and then celebrating by going home and mowing his lawn.

And “The Long Fellow” – as he was known for his slender build – certainly enjoyed a long life. Teenoso celebrated his last derby success 29 years later.

Riding his tallest horse, Nijinsky, Piggott won the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger in 1970. And Nijinsky remains the only horse since World War II to win the English Triple Crown.

Piggott ‘retired’ in 1985, a short coaching career ended when he was convicted of IRS fraud – while serving 366 days of a three-year sentence.

The jockey had no regrets for his crime, calling his jail time “unnecessary” and insisting he had learned nothing from his time behind bars.

He returned to racing in 1990 and won the Breeders’ Cup just ten days after his comeback before retiring for good in 1995.

Piggott had his OBE revoked as a result of his conviction – but the Queen unveiled a statue of him in Epsom in 2019.

The great jockey’s personal life was just as eventful as his sporting career.

Piggott has been married to Susan Armstrong since 1960 and is survived by the couple’s two daughters, Maureen and Tracy, and a son, Jamie, from a long-term relationship with his former secretary, Anna Ludlow.

But while Piggott and his wife split decades ago, they never divorced and remained friends.

He spent the last ten years of his life in Switzerland with his girlfriend, Lady Barbara FitzGerald, who was over 20 years his junior.

Wildly unconventional to the end, Piggott ruled the sport of the English establishment royally for decades.

https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5445650/lester-piggott-greatest-jockey-track-obituary/ Lester Piggott was the greatest jockey of all, his incredible success on the track as eventful as life off it

Aila Slisco

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