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ASK the man on the street to give the first racing name that comes to mind and you can bet your last tenner he will instantly say Lester Piggott.

You cannot say Piggott was ever the PR man's dream, he was a nightmare to deal with, but come the big races he was the jockey every owner and trainer wanted around.

And "old stoneface" repaid that faith in full, time and time again, especially on horses like Roberto and The Minstrel, to whom he made that vital inch of difference between victory and defeat.

Piggott was born to be a jockey. His family tree is littered with those who made a success of riding, both on the Flat and over the jumps.

Already a race winner, in 1948 at the age of 12, the child prodigy was to dominate the scene for more than three decades.

Who else could have bounced back from a prison sentence to gain an extraordinary Breeders' Cup triumph on Royal Academy, after riding in just a handful of races in five years.

That spell inside, for tax evasion offences, was brought on by Piggott's love of money.

He just could not bear to part with it to anyone, let alone the taxman.

One brave stable lad once asked the great man for a fiver because he had looked after a horse the "long fella" had won on.

Typically, Piggott ignored him, but in the hope that he was talking into Piggott's deaf ear, the lad went round to the other side and demanded a tenner!

"Go back to the other ear, It's cheaper," grunted Piggott.

That deafness and a speech impediment made him a recluse, but neither his brain nor ability in the saddle were diluted.

Lester was always several lengths in front of his rivals when it came to sorting out the horses with the best chances and had no qualms about ringing up owners, or trainers, to get himself the ride in place of another jockey.

He infuriated plenty and his decision to ride the Irish-trained Valoris, rather than Varinia in the 1966 Oaks, cost him his 11-year-job with Varinia's trainer Sir Noel Murless.

Piggott was physically tough, as well. Despite living on a diet of cigar smoke to keep his riding weight at eight stone five, he still retained the physique of an athlete.

How else could he have been back in the saddle to win the 1981 1,000 Guineas on Fairy Footsteps, just days after having half an ear torn off in a starting stalls accident.

When he jocked off American rider Darryll McHargue to win the 1984 St Leger on Commanche Run, he broke the record of 27 classics wins that had stood for over 100 years.

He made it 30 classics after his comeback when Rodrigo de Triano won the 2,000 in 1992.

Lester rode winners all over the world and was the forerunner of the modern international jockey like Magnificent Seven man Frankie Dettori, but it is as the Classic king he will be remembered.

Gordon Richards and Steve Donoghue were great, but when it comes to the man at the top of the pile it has to be Lester Piggott.

CLASSIC winners

1,000 GUINEAS - Humble Duty (1970), Fairy Footsteps (81).

2,000 GUINEAS - Crepello (57), Sir Ivor (68), Nijinsky (70), Shadeed (85), Rodrigo de Triano (92).

DERBY - Never Say Die (54), Crepello (57), St Paddy (60), Sir Ivor (68), Nijinsky (70, pictured left), Roberto (72), Empery (76), The Minstrel (77), Teeneso (83).

OAKS - Carrozza (57), Petite Etoile (59), Valoris (66), Juliette Marny (75), Blue Wind (81), Circus Plume (84).

ST LEGER - St Paddy (60), Aurelius (61), Ribocco (67), Ribero (68), Nijinsky (70), Athens Wood (71), Boucher (72), Commanche Run (84).

TOP Flat race

CAST your mind back to the summer of 1975 and the race which lives up to the title of "Race of The Century".

There has even been a book published about the King George clash between Grundy and Bustino - believe me it was that good.

The Derby winner and St Leger hero of the year before settled down to a head to head battle up the straight after Bustino's TWO pacemakers had set a furious pace.

First Grundy then Bustino held the call but it was the chestnut head of Grundy, the younger horse who narrowly prevailed for Pat Eddery. As with all great battles, there was a price to pay. Grundy was well beaten on his only other outing, while Bustino never raced again.

TOP trainer

VINCENT O'BRIEN had to back his judgment to get on the map as a trainer but, by the end of his career, he had re-written history.

The man won everything. The Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle to the Derby, Arc de Triomphe and Breeders' Cup.

His horses were feared wherever they went and some huge gambles were landed by O'Brien's early winners to set up facilities which honed greats like Nijinsky and Alleged.

TOP horse on the Flat

SEA BIRD II comes out on top of any Derby assessment and it is not hard to see why.

This French-based colossus won the 1965 Epsom classic without coming off the bridle and then did the same to the best Arc de Triomphe field ever assembled.

Trained in France by Etienne Pollet, the horse was ridden by Aussie jockey Pat Glennon whose hardest job was in keeping Sea Bird restrained before launching his winning surge.

Nijinsky took the Triple Crown, while Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard were great as well, but Sea Bird II soared above them all.

TOP National Hunt horse

ARKLE dominated the chasing scene so completely in the 1960s that handicappers created two sets of weights for races he was entered in - they had not thought of the long-handicap back then!

Three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, two Hennessys, a King George, a Whitbread and an Irish Grand National do not tell half the story. It was the ease and arrogance of his wins that set Arkle apart.

When injury cut short his career, Arkle had replaced Golden Miller as the greatest chaser in history. On his final public appearance, the band at the Horse Of The Year Show played "There Will Never Be Another You." They were right!

TOP National Hunt race

YOU never saw a greater exhibition of courage and jumping than that displayed by the mighty Australian steeplechaser Crisp, who attempted the impossible in the Grand National of 1973.

Carrying top weight, Crisp set off to run his rivals ragged and he did that until his legs gave out in a final dramatic half mile.

That gave Red Rum, in receipt of 23lb, the chance to overhaul him close home.

Red Rum was good enough to win with 12 stone the following year and, of course, he took the race for a record third time in 1977.

The Whitbread of 1984, won by Special Cargo, was another chase to raise the roof.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Fawcus, Charles
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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