Unquestionably one of the greatest jockeys of all time, Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock in 1948 when just 12 years of age and his last win came with Palacegate Jack at the same Merseyside track in 1994, a few weeks short of his 59th birthday. He retired for a final time in 1995.
Lester Piggott health
Piggott’s son-in-law, Derby-winning trainer William Haggas, who is married to Piggott’s daughter, Maureen, told the PA news agency: “Sadly we can confirm that Lester died peacefully in Switzerland this morning. I really don’t wish to add much more than that at this stage, although Maureen will be making a statement later.”
Crowned champion jockey 11 times, Piggott first won the Derby in 1954 aboard Never Say Die. Eight more wins followed – including Nijinsky in 1970 – with his last Epsom hero being Teenoso in 1983.
Also successful in the 2000 Guineas, Nijinsky and Piggott went on to land the Triple Crown with his triumph in the St Leger.
A brief training career saw Piggott saddle Cutting Blade to win the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1986, a meeting at which he rode a record 116 winners – with 10 of those coming in the Gold Cup.
Born in Wantage, Berkshire, on November 5 1935, Piggott had his best season numerically in 1966 with 191 winners. He rode his 4,000th winner through Sparkling Sin at Nottingham on July 26 1982.
As well as the Derby nine times, Piggott also landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket five times, together with the 1000 Guineas twice.
In all he rode 30 British Classic winners – the last being Rodrigo De Triano in the 2000 Guineas for Peter Chapple-Hyam in 1992.
Tributes to Lester Piggott
Willie Carson and Frankie Dettori have led the tributes to Lester Piggott, who died in Switzerland on Sunday morning at the age of 86.
Carson and Piggott held sway on the track in the 1970s and 80s when both jockeys were in their pomp and five-times champion Carson said he felt like a part of him had died with the most iconic racing figure of the 20th century.
“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.”
Piggott was known for his single-mindedness and was not averse to phoning up trainers to get rides he thought he could win on, regardless of the incumbent jockey.
Carson added: “He was confident. He had the confidence, because he didn’t care about others, where normal people worry about doing the wrong thing.
“That man, for some reason, never showed any pressure. He never seemed to be under any pressure. He rode his horses with such great confidence.
“I wouldn’t call him a close friend, but as the years go on, the more endearing you are to one another – we had a racing life together and I wish I had been as good as him.”
Asked if there had been anyone better before or since Piggott, the Stirling-born winner of 17 British Classics added: “Maybe Gordon Richards and possibly you might put Frankie Dettori up there – those are the three iconic jockeys in the last 250 years.”
Carson added that he was hopeful that his great rival had begun to pull through after being hospitalised last week and hopes were high that he had recovered enough in time to go home over the next few days.
“That is the worst part,” said Carson. “That has made things worse – I was drafting a letter in my head for a card to say ‘welcome home’ for when he got out.
“It is so sad. Part of my life has gone – that is how I feel.”
Piggott was the ‘housewives’ favourite’, particularly when it came to riding in races such as the Derby, and Dettori has long since taken up the baton as the sport’s flag-bearer.
The Italian had a close relationship with Piggott through the pair’s association with the late bookmaker turned gambler and charity fund raiser Barney Curley.
Three-time champion Dettori said: “It is a shock when you hear news like that. He has been part of our lives forever really.
“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.
“I am not old enough to remember him riding when he was in his peak in but, I’m talking as a professional jockey, we all grew up wanting to be like him.
“I kind of got close to him personally, because obviously we were both good friends with Barney (Curley), and Lester was a good friend to me. He will never be forgotten.”
Lester Piggott in prison for tax evasion
His career in the saddle will never be matched, and if there were occasional lows – none more so than serving 366 days of a three-year prison sentence handed down in 1987 for tax evasion and being stripped of his OBE awarded by the Queen – there were many more highs.
Lester Piggott career highlights and achievements
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.
Additional reporting by PA – Nick Robson, Simon Milham, Keith Hamer