Regarded by many to be one of England’s finest flat jockeys ever, Lester Keith Piggott was born on 5 November 1935. Today he is probably also England’s most famous jockey, and his name is easily recognised by even the most uninformed horse racing spectators.
Piggott was already racing before he was a teenager. He won his first race on ‘The Chase’ at the tender age of 12 years. The year was 1948 and the race took place as part of the proceedings at Haydock Park. By the time he was eighteen, he had become a famed teenage sensation. He won the Epsom Derby for the first time on ‘Never Say Die’ in 1954 and before long he had eight more winners under his belt. Part of the reason Lester Piggott was able to ride so many spectacular horses was that he was stable jockey to first Noel Murless and then later to Vincent O’ Brien. However, his skill as a jockey should never be underestimated and Piggott had a way of getting the best out of every horse he rode. Piggott did much to expand the popularity of the sport which had up until then been mainly a class-based affair. Suddenly legions of followers started to watch his every move and thousands of less well-off spectators started to flood the stands at horse racing tracks.
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Piggott was his height. At 5’8’’, he was much taller than the average jockey. As a result he often struggled to keep his weight down and he weighed only 51 kg (8 stone) for the majority of his racing career. His style of riding was unique and it enabled him to become a champion jockey on eleven different occasions. One of the most prestigious moments of Piggott’s career was when he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1975 by the Queen for his contribution to the sport. However shortly after his retirement from flat racing near the end of the 1985 season, he was found guilty of tax irregularities and sentenced to three years prison. He served only 366 days of that sentence but was stripped of his OBE. He resumed his career in 1990 and went on to win the Breeder’s Cup Mile within ten days of his return to the sport. In 1995 he officially retired for good at the ripe old age of 59 years of age.
Many called Lester Piggott ‘Old Stoneface’ as he was not prone to showing emotion though few knew that this was mainly because he had a speech impediment. Nevertheless, what Piggott accomplished in his many years of racing was undisputedly magnificent and he continues to be known as England’s greatest Jockey.