Record-breaking Derby winning jockey Lester Piggott dies

Record-breaking Derby winning jockey Lester Piggott dies

Legendary flat race jockey Lester Piggott who rode a record nine Epsom Derby winners has died aged 86 his son-in-law said on Sunday.

Piggott was admitted to hospital in Switzerland last weekend.

“Sadly we can confirm that Lester died peacefully in Switzerland this morning,” said his son-in-law Williams Haggas.

“I really don’t wish to add much more than that at this stage, although Maureen (Piggott’s daughter) will be making a statement later.”

Piggott is widely regarded as one of the greatest jockeys in the sport’s history, and had been previously admitted to intensive care in 2007 due to a heart problem.

‘The Long Fellow’ as he was nicknamed — due to being unusually tall for a flat jockey — had lived near Geneva since 2012.

Piggott rode in a golden era for jockeys numbering Willie Carson, and the late duo of Pat Eddery and ‘Smokin Joe’ Mercer.

Carson described Piggott as “an iconic figure in the racing industry”.

“He was magical on top of a horse,” Carson told The Racing Post.

“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.”

Statues of Piggott adorn nine racecourses in England and only a week ago one was unveiled at Ireland’s premier racetrack The Curragh.

The 11-time British champion jockey rode 16 Irish classic winners at the track largely due to his partnership with trainer Vincent O’Brien.

– ‘An aura about him’ –

The three-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winning jockey was once known as the housewives’ favourite when it came to picking an Epsom Derby horse to back.

His first Derby winner came when he was just 18 on Never Say Die in 1954 with his ninth and last Teenoso in 1983.

He retired from the saddle in 1985 to train.

However, that was brought to an abrupt halt by the conviction for tax fraud in 1987 that saw him serve a year in prison, and made a shock return after his release to what he knew best, riding.

He rode on for another four seasons with his most notable success when he memorably reunited with O’Brien to win the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Mile on Royal Academy at the age of 54 in 1990.

O’Brien’s son Charles recalled in the Racing Post: “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.”

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

Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock in 1948 when just 12 years of age and his last win came with Palacegate Jack at the same track in 1994, a few weeks short of his 59th birthday. He retired for a final time in 1995.

He rode 4,493 winners, the third highest tally in British racing history behind only Gordon Richards and Eddery.

Carson said Piggott radiated a charisma rare amongst jockeys and despite his stone face expression and a reputation for being taciturn he cared for his rivals.

“Lester walked about with an aura about him and he always was in charge,” said 79-year-old Carson.

“Everyone looked up to him and watched him. He was also a very caring man, if a jockey sustained injury and ended up in hospital, he would be one of the few to turn up and visit them.”

Piggott for his part played down his fame, declaring in 2015 that it would fade with time.

“I think a lot of older people still remember me,” he told the Racing Post.

“I’m probably famous to them, but the younger ones wouldn’t really know who I am. Time goes by.”

pi / nr

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