The 1970s were magical years for racing on the Flat. One rider continued to dominate public attention and affection, as for two previous decades and years to follow, like no other. Four of his nine Derby victories came in this decade. Lester Piggott is probably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. He rode, in the words of Peter O’Sullevan, with “an obsessive, single-minded thirst for winners” achieving more than 4,000 winners domestically and, worldwide, more than 5,300 winners in over 30 countries. These included 30 Classic victories in England alone and he was champion jockey 11 times.
Son of a successful National Hunt jockey and trainer, Lester Piggott was born to racing. His first Derby winner came at the age of 18. He had, and often chose, the best rides – but he was given them because he was the best. For the public, he was ‘the’ name, a jockey whose very presence gave excitement to any race. For racing connossieurs, he combined the best of racing skills.
Near the entrance to Haydock Park racecourse, a sculpture pays tribute to this icon of the sport. It originated from the wish of Piggott’s wife, Susan, to mark his 70th birthday. She commissioned a small bronze from William Newton, a former jockey, to illustrate the span of Lester Piggott’s extraordinary career – showing him riding both his first winner, The Chase, as a 12-year old boy in 1948 and his last winner, Palace Gate Jack, in 1994 when aged 58. Both winners were at Haydock Park. The resulting work was shown to those in charge at the racecourse and a larger, one-third life-size, sculpture was promptly commissioned. It is appropriately entitled ‘From Start to Finish’.