Lester Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock Park in 1948, at the age of just 12, and his last, Palacegate Jack, at the same Merseyside course in 1994, at the age of 59. In total, Piggott rode 4,493 winners, including 30 English Classic winners.
On his first ride in the Derby, as a precocious 15-year-old, in 1951 – long before the introduction of starting stalls – Piggott failed to make much of an impact when he was left at the start on the talented, but mulish, Zucchero. However, he opened his account in the Epsom Classic three years later, aboard Never Say Die, whose victory, at 33/1, made him the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby.
Further success followed, aboard the heavily backed favourite Crepello in 1957 and the ‘underrated’ St. Paddy in 1960, but by the time of his fourth Derby win, aboard the odds-on Sir Ivor, in 1968, Piggott had perfected the short, ‘bent hairpin’ riding style that became his trademark. His next two Derby winners, Nijinsky – who became the last horse to win the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ – in 1970 and Roberto in 1972, both started favourite, but his seventh Derby winner, Empery in 1976, was not expected by anyone, including Piggott himself, to beat the favourite, Wollow. He did, comfortably, and his victory, at 10/1, made Piggott the most successful jockey in the history of the Derby.
‘The Long Fellow’ – as Piggott was affectionately known – was not finished yet, though, winning the Derby again on The Minstrel in 1977 and Teenoso in 1983. Piggott rode in the Derby six more times, without success, but his career record of nine wins from 36 rides may never be beaten.