Lester Piggott: horse race jockey who won the Derby nine times dies aged 86

·6 min read
Lester Piggott: horse race jockey who won the Derby nine times dies aged 86

World-famous horse race jockey Lester Piggott has died at the age of 86.

The legend died in Switzerland on Sunday morning, his son-in-law and Derby-winning trainer William Haggas has confirmed.

“Sadly we can confirm that Lester died peacefully in Switzerland this morning,” he said in a statement.

He was born in Wantage, Berkshire, on November 5 in 1935 (PA)
He was born in Wantage, Berkshire, on November 5 in 1935 (PA)

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

Piggott made history as one of the greatest horse race jockeys of all time, including a record nine wins at Derby.

He was born in Wantage, Berkshire, on November 5 in 1935.

Already his family had great success with racing - his dad Keith was a trained Grand National winner, his grandfather Ernest rode to victory three times in the great steeplechase and his mother Iris was the daughter of Classic-winning jockey Fred Rickaby.

Impressively a young Piggott rode his first winner The Chase at Haydock in 1948 when he was just 12 years of age.

Piggott (pictured centre) had nine Derby victories (PA)
Piggott (pictured centre) had nine Derby victories (PA)

The last win came with Palacegate Jack at the same Merseyside track in 1994, a few weeks short of Piggott’s 59th birthday.

Following his success, he retired for a final time in 1995.

Piggott first won the Derby in 1954 aboard Never Say Die and he went onto win it eight more times, making history.

His glittering career also saw him achieve 116 Royal Ascot victories.

He was also named champion jockey 11 times between 1960 and 1982.

Racing stars paid tribute to the legend following the news of his death.

In tribute, Willie Carson - who together with Piggott held sway on the track in the 1970s and 80s - said it felt like pat of him had died with the racing icon.

“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.

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

Italian jockey Frankie Dettori 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.

“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.”

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 among his 30 British Classics together with 11 champion jockey titles. He matched a fiercely competitive spirit with genius horsemanship and was revered by millions.

“It was only fitting that he became the first person to be inducted into Flat racing’s Qipco British Champions Series Hall of Fame last year. We will be forever grateful for the indelible contribution he made to British horse racing.”

Key moments in his career:

Lester Piggott (right) (PA)
Lester Piggott (right) (PA)

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.

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