Who would Lester have ‘jocked off’?


I have to confess that, even having been in racing for over 40 years, I never followed Lester Pigott until it was way too late. However, the fact that all my jockey icons look up to him pretty much sums it up – Lester was the greatest! (Apologies to Sir AP).

With another Derby just a few days away, one has to marvel at the legend. Here’s a typical piece of stunning ‘Lester statistic’: You have to add together the Derby successes achieved by all of Willie Carson, Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon to get to the Long Fellow’s nine wins. That’s three multiple UK champion jockeys, two with long careers at the top of their game, the last known for his expertise at Epsom. Lester rode in his career the same number of Derby winners as they’d racked up in their three careers combined.

Lester had a ruthless will to win. He didn’t speak much and his demeanour did little to encourage affection. He was once described as having ‘a face like a well-kept grave’. But his consummate skill in the saddle earned him total respect, and with his unwavering desire to bag the big ones he also had no qualms about ‘jocking off’ his weighing-room colleagues when he spotted the opportunity to climb aboard another big-race winner. Witness the 1972 Derby, in which Lester replaced Roberto’s original jockey Bill Williamson, who was pronounced fit after an injury but had to stand back and received a payment to do so.

It is said that, on one occasion in France, Lester even snatched the whip off another jockey during a race at Deauville after dropping his own. Asked about the advantages of employing Lester as stable jockey, trainer Vincent O’Brien replied: “It means he isn’t riding against you!”

O’Brien and Lester won many of the big races, including nine Classics, before they split in 1980 and Lester teamed up with Henry Cecil. One glorious anecdote relates to the 1984 Derby, in which the new O’Brien jockey, Pat Eddery, had sensationally been beaten on 2000 Guineas winner El Gran Senor. Lester later saw his former colleagues O’Brien and Robert Sangster and strode straight past, muttering “Missing me?” as he went.

SCRAM! “The Derby is my race!”

I am going out on a whim here but I can’t see Lester – having run second on anything, cuddle and embrace the winner. I just can’t see it and pretty much as it is for the ever-fresh Roy Keane not accepting the whole Kumbaya in the tunnel pre-match. I am of the same ilk. Not everything is about gambling, but when you’ve had your maximum on a horse you don’t really want to see the connections of your fancy hug and embrace the winner post-race when you were beaten a nostril. 

Back to The Derby and Lester – a 9-time winner of this race and the holder of a record that will possibly stand for ever because one can’t really see what I am about to write below happening. 

This newsletter goes to post prior to us knowing the draw which could be a factor. We can’t allow that to halt our ever-popular newsletter from going to you all this glorious Thursday. 

So here goes. If I were to be Lester Piggott, alive and riding in 2022, I’d be all over jocking either William Buick (Nation’s Pride) or Frankie Detorri (Piz Badile) off their mounts. I’m waiting for the draw to come out and I am making either of these calls: 

To Charlie Appleby: “Charlie, Lester here. I am riding Nations Pride for you. Tell His Highness I need to get to 10 Derby’s.”


To Donnacha O’Brien: “Donnie, Uncle Lester here, you don’t even need to check with anyone. Tell the Italian to find another ride!”

I personally can’t decide which one of the two I’d favour at the moment. This is probably because I am not Lester and I don’t fear the prospects of a “poor” draw. The best strategy this year is that we can just try and get some profit and back both.  Join us here to get our race day selections.

Sir Michael Stoute’s runner Desert Crown must have a favourite’s chance and could be special, but his win at York for me was a grinding victory until he fully asserted himself. 

While I may stir up the Derby Jockey arrangements, I also feel it’s high time we look at the lack of geldings and fillies in this race.  In my view, you’ve got to go back to Sea The Stars to find a Derby winner worthy of sowing his seed. The Derby winner is always hyped up like no others, when in fact he might not be the best of his generation at all.

Let’s discuss that in more depth next year. -IRC

Sources consulted: Racing TV, BBC.

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