Iconic jockey Lester Piggott has reached his final furlong, aged 86. The lanky (by jockey standards), partially deaf Piggott cut an atypical horseracing star, but his talent and feisty personality made him a dominant figure of the scene for decades. His ability was already evident as a prepubescent, winning his first race aged 12, and by 18 he first won the gold standard competition, the Epson Derby, on a horse named Never Say Die. Even though he just did. His career stats were legendary, with 4,493 total wins and 30 British Classics wins, and he rode horses raised by star trainers such as Vincent O’Brien and Henry Cecil. He was deemed the British flat racing Champion Jockey (ie the British jockey who rode the most winners in a given year) for most years in the 60s, and as late as 1982. Horseracing as a whole benefitted from Piggott’s dazzling success, with affectionate nicknames such as the “housewives’ favourite” underscoring a casual appeal to Piggott that propelled the sport to wider mainstream popularity.
Figures who reshape a sport’s stature like that typically come with a dynamic personality, and Piggott was no exception. Succeeding in the face of partial deafness and rebounding from multiple career lows gave his story inspirational element. He was fiercely competitive, often butting heads with authorities and deliberately keeping himself underweight with a diet emphasising champagne and cigars. A taciturn man due to a mild speech impediment, he typically let his success on the track speak for itself. The words he did say often packed droll punch, such as using his deaf ear to throw a valet astray, or responding with a sardonic “yes” when a child asked him if he was Wilson Pickett. Why even a kid would mix the two up is beyond me!
Miserliness drove Lester Piggott as much as his desire to win, which would lead to the most infamous incident in his rollercoaster life. Several years after turning from jockeying to horse training, his career came to an abrupt halt after he was convicted of tax evasion. He was jailed for a year in 1987 and stripped of his OBE. While some contemporaries felt the prison stint somewhat softened Piggott, the man himself felt largely unchanged. He indomitably resumed his jockey career in the early 90s before retiring for good in 1995. He was a one-of-a-kind force of personality in horseracing, equally memorable on and off the track for both his highs and lows. Ten teams gallop onward, with joker points for Thanks for being a Sport.
5 November 1935 – 29 May 2022, aged 86
10 TEAMS (💀💀💀💀💀💀 6 POINTS, 🃏 (x1) 12 POINTS)