Lester Piggott – The King of Royal Ascot
As far as Lester Piggott was concerned, a life in the saddle was always a given. His grandfather Ernie was a Grand National winner on two occasions, while his father was a jump jockey and Grand National winning trainer. Add to this the fact that his mother Iris was also of well-known Rickaby racing lineage.
With such a strong racing background, not even the most optimistic of horseracing connoisseurs could have predicted the pure dominance that the racing legend (fondly known as “The Long Fellow”) would enjoy on the flat.
At 5’8”, Piggott was considered a bit on the tall side for a jockey (hence the nickname), but this apparent disadvantage did nothing more than add to his determination to be a success and further endear him to racegoers. A man known for his individual racing style that saw him perched rather precariously high due to his incredibly short stirrups, Lester was the jockey other jockeys wanted to beat and the upstart the Jockey Club wanted to rein in.
In 1954, he fell afoul of the powers that be in The Jockey Club, who decided to single him out for punishment in the wake of Sir Gordon Richards’ career-ending fall. They accused his father of pushing the then 18-year-old Piggott to intentionally harm other riders, and banned Lester indefinitely as a result.
It wouldn’t stop the single-minded Piggott though, who would return after a six-month hiatus to reignite what would become the greatest racing career the world has ever seen.
Lester’s career will be remembered for many reasons, but his stunning record of 116 Royal Ascot wins will perhaps live longest in the memories of avid racing fans and the general public alike. His 11 Ascot Gold Cup wins is a record that he will likely hold for many years to come, including one, alongside his 9 Epsom Derby wins, that made him a household name.
The first of his Gold Cup wins came in 1957 on Zarathustra, and his subsequent wins came riding Gladness in 1958, Pandofell in 1961, Twilight Alley in 1963, Fighting Charlie in 1965, Sagaro (for three years in a row from 1975-1977), Le Moss in 1979, and Ardross (in both 1981 and 1982).
BetStars has last year’s winner, Order of St. George, as the clear favourite for this year’s Ascot Gold Cup; but, even if Ryan Moore rides him to another win, the jockey will have a long way to go before he catches up with the legendary Piggott’s 11 wins.
Exerting such dominance over the field in two stellar periods, it’s easy to see why many consider Piggott the best jockey to have ever raced at Royal Ascot. His Gold Cup wins enthralled the race-loving nation, while his style and deadpan sense of humour delighted even those who didn’t follow the sport.
He was to racing what Pele was to football, and like Brazil’s most beloved athlete, there will never be another like him.