Remarkable feats that echo down centuries; In the first of a weekly series on racing dynasties John Randall looks at the family of the legendary Lester Piggott.
THE racing profession tends to run in families, and Lester Piggott embodies its dynastic nature more than anyone else.
Classic winners and Grand National heroes occupy so many branches of Piggott's pedigree that the sport is deeply embedded in his DNA; in racing terms he is more blue-blooded than any of the champions he rode.
He is descended from the Days of Danebury, the Cannons and the Rickabys, and their Flat-race expertise combined with the Piggott jumping genes to produce the greatest jockey of modern times.
The dynasty consists of eight generations of trainers and jockeys, and the feats of ancestors like John Barham Day, Tom Cannon and Ernie Piggott echo down the centuries.
Lester Piggott is related to so many notable racing people that there is room in the adjacent family tree for only the closest and most prominent of them; he is linked by marriage to the Jarvis, Leader, Hall, Butters, Waugh and Armstrong families.
If British racing had a Hall of Fame, the following members of the dynasty would be strong contenders for membership.
John Barham Day (1793-1860) Lester Piggott's great-great-greatgrandfather was the son of 'Old John' Day, who came from Somerset to train in Hampshire in the late 18th century. John Barham Day was the only man to be both a great jockey (16 Classics) and a great trainer (ten Classics) on the Flat in Britain. His two careers overlapped and on five occasions he rode to Classic victory on a horse he trained himself, including three times on Crucifix in 1840. He trained an even greater filly, Virago, to win the 1,000 Guineas in 1854.
Day trained at Danebury, near Stockbridge in Hampshire, until moving to Michel Grove, Sussex, in 1847. He bet heavily and was as unscrupulous as he was talented; his nickname 'Honest John' was given to him out of either sarcasm or ignorance. Three of his sons, John, William and Alfred, achieved great distinction and another, Samuel, rode a St Leger winner but died young. Samuel Day (1800-1866) John Barham Day's brother was primarily a jockey and he rode the winners of five Classics. Three of them were for his brother, all in 1846 including the Derby on Pyrrhus The First. He had already won the Derby on Gustavus (1821) and the great Priam (1830) for other trainers. John Day jnr (1819-1882) Lester's great-great-grandfather inherited his father John Barham Day's lack of principle, and succeeded him at Danebury stables in 1847. He had already won one Classic as a jockey and triumphed in 12 more as a trainer, including the Derby with Cossack (1847) and Andover (1854). He won 146 races in 1867, which was a record for any trainer in a British season until Henry Cecil won 180 in 1987; 12 of those victories were gained by champion twoyear-old Lady Elizabeth. His daughter, Kate, married Tom Cannon, who had a spell as his stable jockey.
William Day (1823-1908) Alfred Day (1830-1868) These two were just as talented and unscrupulous as their father, John Barham Day, and brother, John Day jnr. William trained three Classic winners at Woodyates in Wiltshire and his best horse was Foxhall, who landed the Grand Prix de Paris, Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire in 1881. Alfred rode seven Classic winners, six of them for his brothers - five for John and one for William. He also won the 1854 Ascot Gold Cup on West Australian.
Tom Cannon (1846-1917) Lester's great-grandfather was a great jockey, capable of holding his own with Fred Archer. He was champion in 1872 and rode the winners of 13 Classics, including Robert The Devil (1880 St Leger) and Shotover (1882 Derby). Unlike most jockeys of that era, he was both honest and sparing in his use of the whip. His first Classic winner was trained by John Day jnr, whose Danebury stables he eventually took over (he trained Playfair, the 1888 Grand National winner) and whose daughter Kate he married. They were the parents of Morny and Kempton Cannon and of Margaret, who married Ernie Piggott.
Joe Cannon (1849-1933) Noel Cannon (1897-1959) The brother and nephew of Tom Cannon were both trainers who won three Classics. Joe landed the Grand National in 1876 with Regal, ridden by himself, and the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas in 1878 with Pilgrimage, ridden by his brother. His son Noel trained Scottish Union (1938 St Leger), 1956 champion two-year-old Sarcelle, and Gay Time, the 1952 Derby and King George runner-up who was ridden by his kinsman, 16-year-old Lester.
Morny Cannon (1873-1962) Kempton Cannon (1879-1951) These two sons of Tom Cannon were Lester's great-uncles, and both were Derby-winning jockeys. Morny was champion six times between 1891 and 1897 and won six Classics, including the Triple Crown on Flying Fox in 1899. His long-legged style was then rendered obsolete by the American 'crouch' seat. Kempton, more adaptable to the new style, won the 2,000 Guineas and Derby on St Amant in 1904, and married the widow of leading jockey Jack Watts. Another brother, Tom, was a jockey and trainer on a modest scale. Ernie Piggott (1878-1967) Lester's grandfather, the most successful jump jockey of his time, was based in France for several years and then became champion in Britain three times between 1910 and 1915. He rode two great steeplechasers to win the Grand National under 12st 7lb - Jerry M (1912) and Poethlyn (1919) - and also took a wartime substitute National at Gatwick on Poethlyn. He and his wife Margaret (daughter of Tom Cannon) were the parents of Keith Piggott.
Keith Piggott (1904-1993) The son of Ernie Piggott and father of Lester was a leading jump jockey who rode African Sister (trained by his uncle Charlie) to victory in the 1939 Champion Hurdle. He then trained on a small scale in Lambourn, and was champion over jumps in 1962-63 thanks to his victory in the Grand National with 66-1 shot Ayala. He married Iris Rickaby, and his biggest contribution to racing was as mentor to their only child. The riding skills Lester learned under Keith's kind but firm tutelage in wartime Berkshire laid the foundations of his epoch-making career.
Fred Rickaby snr (1869-1941) Lester's maternal grandfather was the grandson of John Rickaby, who trained Wild Dayrell to win the Derby in 1855. As a jockey he won three Classics in the 1890s, and the best horse he ever rode was Santoi, the 1901 Ascot Gold Cup winner; he was warned off the following year. He sired Fred Rickaby jnr (see below), Iris (Lester's mother) and Florence, whose two husbands, Walter Griggs and Fred Lane, were both Classic-winning jockeys.
Fred Rickaby jnr (1894-1918) Lester was named after his uncle Frederick Lester Rickaby, whose five Classic victories included four in the 1,000 Guineas, notably on Diadem (1917) for his father's old boss, George Lambton. He served in the army during World War I and died of wounds received on the Western Front a month before the Armistice, aged 23, leaving two infant sons (see below). His wife, Grace, was the sister of Classic-winning jockeys Billy and Walter Griggs.
Fred Rickaby III (1916-2010) Bill Rickaby (1917-1987) Lester's first cousins were both indentured to their uncle, Walter Griggs. Fred was champion apprentice in 1931 and 1932, and became a leading jump jockey before emigrating to South Africa, where he was champion trainer in 1975-76. He died last January, aged 93. His brother Bill, who often rode against Lester, won both fillies' Classics on Sweet Solera in 1961 and landed the 1967 Eclipse on Busted, the best horse he ever rode. He married Bridget Jarvis, who died last month; she was the niece of four Derby-winning trainers - Basil and Sir Jack Jarvis, and Frank and Fred Butters - and the aunt of current trainer William Jarvis. Sam Armstrong (1904-1982) Lester's father-in-law was a trainer like his father, Bob, and brother, Gerald. His best horse was My Babu, the champion two-year-old who won the 2,000 Guineas in 1948, and he also trained St Leger winner Sayajirao, champion sprinters Matatina and Caterina, and Petingo, the top juvenile of 1967. His apprentices included Josh Gifford and Willie Carson. He was the father of Robert and Susan, who helped to teach his apprentices until she married Lester in 1960.
Robert Armstrong (born 1944) Lester's brother-in-law succeeded his father Sam as the trainer at St Gatien stables, Newmarket, at the end of 1972. His best horse, Moorestyle, was the champion of Europe in 1980, when the colt triumphed in the July Cup, Haydock Sprint Cup, Prix de l'Abbaye and Prix de la Foret. His two other champions were Never So Bold (sprinter 1985) and Mujtahid (two-year-old 1990), and he also trained Maroof. He retired in 2000. William Haggas (born 1960) The Newmarket trainer, who married Lester's elder daughter Maureen in 1989, is the son of prominent owners Christine Feather (Silver Buck) and Brian Haggas (Bog Trotter). He triumphed in the Derby with Shaamit, who won the Epsom Classic on his seasonal reappearance in 1996, and also trained Superstar Leo, the champion two-year-old filly of 2000 jointly bred and owned by Lester.
OF COURSE, the most famous member of this family is Lester Piggott, the reckless boy wonder who matured into a jockey with a matchless big-race temperament. His record tally of 30 English Classics included an unprecedented nine Derbys. He won 4,493 Flat races in Britain plus 20 over hurdles, and was champion 11 times.
During his long associations with Noel Murless and Vincent O'Brien he rode some of the best post-war champions, notably Crepello, Petite Etoile, Sir Ivor, Triple Crown hero Nijinsky (pictured above landing the Derby) and dual Arc winner Alleged, proved the supreme master of both extreme finesse and brute force, and became racing's first international champion.
Without Piggott's achievements, this would be a remarkable family, but with him it can perhaps be judged the supreme racing dynasty. And as to the future, perhaps the Haggas children, Mary-Anne and Sam, or their uncle Jamie (Lester's 17-year-old son), will carry the torch to future generations. jjNext week: Peter Thomas takes a look at the Wildenstein family
Family album (clockwise from left): a young Lester with his father Keith at Lambourn; a painting of John Barham Day with sons John and William on Newmarket Heath in 1841; Ernie Piggott, Lester's grandfather; former trainer Robert Armstrong, Lester's brother-in-law, whose best horse was Moorestyle