A few personal memories of the world’s greatest jockey

A few words to share, amongst the tens of thousands being written this past few weeks, in memory of a unique talent, Lester Piggott. My only direct meeting with him was on the Limekilns when I was introduced to him by Peter O’Sullevan in 1956. What most surprised me about him was his enormous hands and the powerful handshake that countered an otherwise diffident demeanour.

I come from Walsall, where the town’s finest butcher was Frank White, a racing aficionado. Frank kept my family supplied with plentiful supplies of black-market meat throughout rationing, which lasted until 1954, the year in which the great sprinter Right Boy was born. Frank bought him for 575 guineas and sent him to Bill Dutton up in Yorkshire to be trained. Bill was not a well man, and handed the licence to his son-in-law Pat Rohan. In 1958 Right Boy was entered to run in the Cork and Orrery sprint at Royal Ascot and Piggott fancied the ride. He rang the trainer to get his regular rider jocked off. Rohan was not inclined to accept Piggott’s forceful argument and refused his offer. Rohan then rang Frank White to explain what had happened, to find the line engaged. It was Piggott on the line to the owner, and he was persuasive enough to be promised the ride. Right Boy won under a masterful ride from Piggott who was successful again in the 1959 renewal, but not before Lester had succeeded in securing a share of the stallion fees in addition to his winning percentage.

On another occasion, I had been held up on a business trip to Italy and could only get back to the UK by flying to Birmingham. As luck would have it, racing was taking place at Bromford Bridge that day. At that time I lived in South West London and was recognized by Scobie Breasley’s chauffeur, a rugby fan, as a Rosslyn Park rugby player. He told me that he would be able to offer me a lift back to Roehampton with his governor’s permission. This granted, we waited outside the weighing room for Scobie to arrive which he duly did alongside Piggott. Rumour had it that Piggott used to refuse to take a ride unless he was given a riding fee of £500 – a monkey – which was passed to him in Manikin cigar tins. Lester asked Scobie if he would lend him a fiver. “What for?” he asked.  “Because,” said Piggott,” I want to pay my valet”. “But I’ve just seen you cop an M tin” rebutted Breasley. “Yes” replied Piggott, but I don’t want to break into that”.

In the following year, I was in a taxi going from Abbeyleix to Cashel. “You see this land” said the driver. “It’s the finest land in Ireland, and all four thousand acres of it belong to Lester Piggott”.

Quite an operator was this finest of jockeys. May he rest in peace.