Obituary: Keith Piggott
Friday 18 June 1993
KEITH PIGGOTT will inevitably be best remembered as the father of Lester, one of the greatest jockeys in racing history. But his own, direct contribution to the sport was significant. As a jockey he rode African Sister to win the 1939 Champion Hurdle and he trained the 1963 Grand National winner Ayala. Injury had denied him a National victory as a jockey; he was the regular partner of the 1931 winner Grackle, but was injured at the time with a broken thigh.
His involvement with racing was inevitable, simply on the strength of his family ties. His mother, Margaret, was a daughter of the Flat jockey Tommy Cannon, and descended from the well-known if on occasions infamous Day racing dynasty. Piggott's father, Ernie, was a successful National Hunt jockey.
Following in his father's footsteps, like his brother Victor, Keith Piggott became a successful jumps jockey with more than 500 winners to his credit. He started his racing career, at the age of 12, as apprentice to Bert Lines in Newmarket before transferring to Frank Barling. He rode his first winner as a 15-year-old, but grew too heavy for the Flat. The switch to jump racing was both obvious and irresistible. Besides African Sister and Grackle, his other big successes as a jockey included Vaulx's win in the 1925 Welsh Grand National.
After the Second World War had ended his riding career (he was recruited to the Royal Observer Corps), Piggott set up as a trainer in Letcombe Regis before moving in 1946 to Lambourn. As well as Ayala, who was owned by the hairdresser Teasy Weasy Raymond, Piggott trained Anselmo for the pop star Billy Fury. Anselmo finished fourth to Santa Claus in the 1964 Derby and also proved a useful hurdler. Other good horses were the long-distance hurdler Eastern Warrior and the prolific winners Mull Sack and Royal Task. Piggott retired from training in 1966, but by then the continued association of the family name with racing was guaranteed.
In 1929 Piggott had married Iris Rickaby, whose family was as well- known in racing as his own. Her great-grandfather Fred trained the winner of the 1855 Derby, Wild Dayrell; her father, also called Fred, rode the 1896 Oaks winner Canterbury Pilgrim; her brother - Fred again - won the 1,000 Guineas four times, and his son Bill was also a top- class jockey. Iris, who died in 1987, was a talented rider in her own right.
No question, then, that their only son, Lester, born in 1935, was odds-on to become a jockey. Even by the age of 10 he was riding out his father's string of racehorses and became apprenticed to him two years later. In August 1948, after a handful of attempts. Lester rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock. Keith Piggott's influence on his son's outstanding career was immense. They enjoyed an extremely close relationship (Keith retired to a bungalow beside his son's Newmarket stables), but a well-disciplined one. As his 'guvnor', Keith Piggott was entitled under Jockey Club rules to keep half of his apprentice son's earnings, but instead he saved the money for him.
Some considered the relationship between the two men to be, professionally, too close. In 1954, when Lester had his licence withdrawn for reckless riding at Royal Ascot, Keith Piggott was also reprimanded for encouraging his son's 'disregard of the safety of other jockeys'. Lester Piggott was ordered to move to a stable other than his father's. His time in Newmarket with Jack Jarvis was not considered nearly as helpful to him as the time spent with his father.
Keith Piggott's influence on jockeys did not end with Lester. He was known as a good teacher of apprentices and two recent Derby-winning jockeys, Ray Cochrane, who rode Kahyasi in 1988, and Alan Munro, Generous in 1991, both thanked Keith Piggott for using films of previous runnings of the Derby to help them ride the tricky, undulating course.
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