Lester Piggott, one of the greatest jockeys to ever live, died at eighty-six. The Englishman, who holds the record for the most Epsom Derby wins with nine, enjoyed a stunning career in the saddle, winning thirty British Classics and racking up 4,493 winners. For many, he was the best, with his achievements unlikely to be matched.
Piggott, who died after being admitted to a hospital in Switzerland where he lived, bagged his first winner at the age of twelve. It came at Haydock in 1948, and coincidentally this was also the track where Piggott called time on his career for a final time forty-seven years later in 1995.
His first Epsom Derby win came six years after registering his first victory in the saddle in 1954, when he rode Never Say Die home to joyous applause. Piggott, who was partially deaf, rode his final winner in the Epsom Derby in 1983, when he was aboard Teenoso. Other Derby winners included Crepello (1957), St. Paddy (1960), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), Empery (1976) and The Minstrel (1977).
Nijinsky, who Pigott, nicknamed Long Fellow because for a Flat jockey, he was taller than most at 5'8, rode to success in 1970, was the last to ever win the British Triple Crown with a victory in the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and St Leger. It was just another well-documented success in what was a stellar career in horse racing.
Piggott’s time in the sport didn’t come without controversy. In 1987, he received a three-year jail sentence after being found guilty of tax evasion with a value of more than three million pounds. However, his sentence was shortened thanks to good behaviour. And after coming out of retirement for the second time, he rode Royal Academy to victory in the $1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, one of the richest races on the planet, three years later.
Following his passing, Piggott has been described as a hero and a legend by many from the horse racing world. Frankie Dettori, another legendary Flat jockey, said, “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.”
Willie Carson, who won the Derby four times and was Piggott’s rival during the 1970s and 80s, with the two men dominating the sport, said, “Lester has been part of my life ever since I came into racing. He was an iconic figure in the horse racing world. He is a legend.”
The words of AP McCoy, the legendary jump jockey, will arguably ring the truest when he suggested that what Piggott achieved “will never be done again.” And, with nine Derby wins and thirty British Classic successes, which included five 2,000 Guineas, two 1,000 Guineas, six Oaks and eight St Leger’s, it’s going to be incredibly hard for anyone to better those achievements.