Racing: Piggott's wins quieten critics: Leaner times for a veteran jockey but a horse named Pickles shows some powers are still preserved

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A RECENT run of winners could hardly be counted as a rejuvenation in the riding career of the great Lester Piggott, who will be 60 next year. But it has helped to muffle, just for a while, questions over how long the old maestro will stay in the saddle.

News came this week that he has lost the ride on Khamaseen, in Sunday's Irish Derby, to his old rival Willie Carson. Piggott had guided Khamaseen into fifth place in the Derby at Epsom three weeks ago.

Being told that the mount would be Carson's instead must have been a blow to Piggott's pride. Certainly the irony might not have been lost on the 11-times champion. Elbowing lesser riders out of the way to get big-race mounts used to be his own speciality.

The power-packed finish that used to be a Piggott hallmark is another casualty of advancing years, but a sequence of victories in the past few weeks in minor races in Britain and in more valuable contests abroad has at least demonstrated that his tactical awareness and judgement of pace can be as acute as ever.

There was even an echo of the old days at Chester on Wednesday evening when Piggott steered 9-1 chance Futuristic Brent to an impressive victory - with the crowd cheering him on.

Only an hour later, however, he was reminded of how fickle the acclaim of punters can be. As his mount Pickles, a 9-2 shot, won even more easily, booing broke out in the stands. The reason was that the previous Saturday night, the same horse had been ridden by Piggott at Warwick.

At that track, Pickles ran inexplicably badly, trailing in last of eight despite being a heavily-backed favourite.

Having been on offer on the course at 6-4 against, the gelding's odds were forced down to 4-5. The Sporting Life recorded a number of large bets, including several individual wagers of pounds 1,000 or more. Pickles was virtually pulled up in the closing stages of the race and the Life reported that the six-year-old had 'finished distressed'.

Yet only five days before Warwick, Pickles - Piggott again in the saddle - had won by 10 lengths at Nottingham. Alan Bailey, the horse's trainer, said yesterday: 'Something was definitely amiss at Warwick. The horse should have trotted up. Lester knew that, that's why he left Ascot to go to Warwick to ride him.

'Lester said it was as if the horse had hit a brick wall. The horse was certainly distressed. His eyes were popping, he blew for 40 minutes, when he was so fit he shouldn't have blown out a candle.'

Bailey added that a veterinary officer at the track had said that Pickles' symptoms included an irregular heartbeat. On the way back to the trainer's stables at Tarporley, Cheshire, Pickles 'flooded the horsebox' with urine. Bailey commented: 'It was all very unusual. I've never had it happen to any of my horses before. It's crossed my mind he may have been got at. But there may be a natural reason. At the moment, though, it's a mystery, especially as the horse was perfectly fine the very next day and then won easily at Chester.'

A routine dope-test was carried out at Warwick and samples from Pickles will be examined by the Jockey Club.

(Photograph omitted)