Racing: Piggott's rare words lack colour of Duke's portrait

Richard Edmondson finds some characters hard to recognise in a surfeit of biographies
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The Independent Online
For many who have come into the taciturn orbit of Lester Piggott, it will come as something of a surprise that he has managed a 280-page autobiography. If his normal verbal output is a guide, he must have started writing this book at about the time Never Say Die was a foal.

The trouble with Piggott is we have heard it all before, but for the anoraks who cannot get enough of the great man there is new material here, the minutiae that even the tabloids have not bothered to whip up into a Piggott story. The trifling details, especially of the family working- holidays, are everywhere and the tome stops just short of recording the names of overdue library books Lester returned late over the years.

There has been a lot of research done by somebody here. The riding record that concludes Lester, The Autobiography Of Lester Piggott (Partridge Press, pounds 16.99) informs that the jockey rode 4,493 domestic Flat winners, and he seems to mention just about all of them in the main body of text.

A great constant in the book is Piggott's relationship with the press. Tape recorders and notebooks have been under the man's nose daily as much as stubble, and the methods of some mean Piggott thinks of all (Peter O'Sullevan excepted, it appears) as vile serpents from the deep.

The press are also involved in perhaps the most inglorious moment of David Nicholson's career when, almost a year ago, he became involved in a fracas with Edward Whitaker, the racecourse photographer. In The Duke, the Autobiography of Champion Trainer David Nicholson (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 18.99) he does not shirk discussing the incident, but it is to be hoped his fuzzy recollection of events that day is not mirrored elsewhere in the book.

For Jonothan Powell has really got the Duke talking. The man is all in here: the survivor, the snob, the great loyalist, the bully, the champion trainer. The foreword is by The Princess Royal, and if she is just a fraction as humorous, humble and intelligent as portrayed by the Duke then the nation is in good hands with the Windsors.

The possession of impregnable self-belief is a feature of many great sporting winners and Nicholson is no different. He defers only to his father, Frenchie, and gives the impression he could have an argument with the fellow in front of him while he is having a shave.

But whatever he is, David Nicholson is our leading trainer. It is a great measure of this book that it details precisely the man we have as our standard bearer.

The same cannot be said of Paddy Mullins, the Master Of Doninga (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 14.99), the biography of one of Ireland's legendary figures. Mullins has a bad word for no-one and you half expect a line such as "met that Satan at Roscommon the other day. Nice chap".

It is hardly typical of the man. This reporter's first contact with him was met with a volley of blue abuse so fierce that the priest would have had to take a flask and sleeping bag to the trainer's next confessional.

Nevertheless, Mullins's is a charming story of a boy who learned to swim in the River Barrow with bull rushes tied together by twine as buoyancy and later swam in the most turbulent waters of Irish National Hunt racing.

The happiest recollection is Hurry Harriet's success in the 1973 Champion Stakes, after which Mullins showed racecourse delight for perhaps the only time in his life. Connections may have gauged their victory was unexpected when invited to a winners' reception that had catered for 50. There were three of them.

The great sadness is that what should have been Mullins's greatest moment touches him elsewhere emotionally. When Dawn Run won the Gold Cup in 1986 it was a day when the population of an entire nation seemed to squeeze joyously into Cheltenham's winners' enclosure. Mullins, though, felt a strange emptiness as his son Tony had been "jocked off" the ride. Worse was to follow when Dawn Run's owner, Charmian Hill, decided "the mare" should run in the French Champion Hurdle. Mullins was against the idea and his thoughts are aired in the chapter entitled "Death In Paris".

The Independent's former racing correspondent John Karter is quick off the mark with Frankie Dettori, the illustrated biography (Headline Book Publishing, pounds 17.99), while another former holder of the post, Paul Hayward, helped out on Willie Carson, Up Front (Stanley Paul, pounds 8.99). The Scot's frighteningly frank autobiography in collaboration with Brough Scott is now out in paperback.

The picture books include Phil Smith and Simon Holt's Racing Yearbook (available by post from Paddock Books, PO Box 5572, Newbury, RG20 9YL, Tel: 01635 254492, pounds 25), in which Smith has enlisted photographic help from his fellow talented snappers Dan Abraham and Philippa Gilchrist.