Still mileage for a foreign fling: RACING COMMENTARY

PIGGOTT RETIREMENT: The Long Fellow leaves the British stage as his charismatic successor reaches a landmark
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The Independent Online
Lester Piggott retired again this weekend. Ten years after the crop was placed on the peg for the first occasion, Old Stoneface said that this time he has definitely gone.

But while he may never again be a meaningful visitor to Britain's jockeys' rooms, there may be opportunities to view him in the saddle at venues abroad.

The trainer Robert Armstrong, Piggott's brother-in-law, paid tribute to his relative's career in the saddle, but at the same time refused to rule out that his decrepit skills may again be visible to those in other climes. "His career has just been unbelievably larger than life," he said. "But he's never said he wouldn't ride anywhere else again."

Those who know, and have ridden against, the great figurehead have become accustomed to suggestions of his passing from competition, but refuse to accept it even though Piggott will reach the unathletic age of 60 in November.

"As I was saying to his brother-in-law [Armstrong] this morning, I wouldn't be surprised if he rode a double in Singapore in four or five weeks time," Jimmy Lindley, who knows how Piggott's socks smell from the old days in the changing room, said yesterday. "He's probably not enjoying it as much, but it still takes a bit of swallowing that he's retired.

"It is the end of him here because he doesn't want his face rubbed in the dirt, but I always thought he might have a couple more seasons making appearances abroad.

"He's burned his boats in Hong Kong a bit, because he rode in Macau and they don't like that, but there are other places. He's still very well thought of on the Indian circuit, in Malaysia and Australia. He was a great hit at the bush meetings in Australia last year and that's a job for 15-year-olds. It's dangerous. Some of those tracks are worse then Ally Pally."

But switching off his career in Britain has been enough to turn the tap on the pipe of Piggott eulogies. The man may not be a comic-book hero (he does not buy the first round, he notoriously failed to pay his taxes), but his sporting impact has been huge. There are few figures who are recognisable instantaneously by just their Christian or surnames. "Racing owes him a great deal," Lindley said. "Every sport has to have its folklore hero - football had Stanley Matthews, boxing has Bruno taking over from Our 'Enry - and Lester has been racing's Messiah. It's not going to be the same not seeing his bottom going around in the air."

The Independent revealed just over a month ago that Piggott was unlikely to ride in this country again and his record-breaking figures now look unlikely to be improved. The man has won 30 Classics and has tripped up to the winner's podium in more than 5,000 races worldwide.

It has not all been good reading, however. What Piggott has owed and not paid is well documented, rightly to his detriment, but he is also owed compliments for his efforts from the saddle. Many leave little permanent impression on their sport, but Piggott has been different and while dourness and uncommunicativeness are not popular in most circles, it made Piggott no less of a hero.

His successor as the flag-bearer for the sport has a completely different manner but has found he can magnetise in the same way. By some trick of fate, Lanfranco Dettori managed to reach 1,000 career wins in the St Leger on Saturday during a weekend when his predecessor as the overpowering figure in the jockeys' room was enquiring about the location of the nearest Post Office.

The Italian, at the age of 24, has found that he can be taken seriously (and indeed loved) for acting the goat, and his act gets ever more theatrical. Saturday was a notable example. As he crossed the finishing line on Classic Cliche his whip was flicking as violently as a drumstick during a roll, and the parting of partners remained entertaining if familiar. Dettori's big-race wins now inevitably culminate in the ejector-seat dismount, while his grin appears to put considerable stress on the bones of his skull. The jockey has now taken to dispensing riding equipment into his audience like a diva casting roses into the stalls, which may explain why, this morning, someone will have his goggles as pride of place on their mantlepiece.

Behind the tomfoolery there is substance. A decade ago, Dettori was plopped into Newmarket as bemused as Paddington on the station platform, with not a single word of English in his head. Now he is griddle-hot. "It went pretty quick," he said on Saturday. "I hope the next 1,000 don't go that quick, I'd like to enjoy it a bit more."

When you are enjoying it though, the foot never seems to come off the accelerator and the good times seem limitless. Dettori should ask Lester Piggott about that.

Leading article, page 12

'Let's hope he is not lost to the sport'

Willie Carson: "He had a great will to win and he was a very hard man to beat. He revolutionised riding styles as he rode very short because he was on the tall side for a jockey."

Geoff Lewis: "It had to come to an end but let's hope he is not lost to the sport. He could give so much back if people would let him."

Charles O'Brien (son of Vincent O'Brien): "He's been a life-time hero for our family. He rode a winner for me soon after I started training and I got the usual pearls of wisdom from him in the winner's enclosure."

Pat Eddery: "It's very sad, particularly as I thought he would go on for a while yet."

Dick Francis (former jockey turned thriller writer): "Racecourses around the world will be dimmed by the prospect of never again seeing that 'Long Fellow' in action. Lester Piggott, as the housewives' darling, has raised Britain's consciousness of racing as the people's sport, not just the sport of kings."


Name: Lester Keith Piggott

Born: Wantage, Oxfordshire 5 November 1935

Married: Susan Armstrong, 1960.

First winner: The Chase, at Haydock, 18 August, 1948.

Best season: 191 winners in 1966.

Total winners in Britain: 4,512.

Last British winner: Palacegate Jack, at Haydock, 6 October, 1994.

Champion Apprentice: 1950 (52 winners) and 1951 (51 winners).

Champion Jockey: 11 times; 1960, 1964-71, 1981-82

British Classic wins: 2,000 Guineas - Crepello (1957), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Shadeed (1985), Rodrigo De Triano (1992); 1,000 Guineas - Humble Duty (1970), Fairy Footsteps (1981); Derby - Never Say Die (1954), Crepello (1957), St Paddy (1960), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), Empery (1976), The Minstrel (1977), Teenoso (1983); Oaks - Carrozza (1957), Petite Etoile (1959), Valoris (1966), Juliette Marny (1975), Blue Wind (1981), Circus Plume (1984); St Leger - St Paddy (1960), Aurelius (1961), Ribocco (1967), Ribero (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Athens Wood (1971), Boucher (1972), Commanche Run (1984).

Principal wins abroad: Ireland: Every Classic at least twice (15 in all), including Irish Derby - Meadow Court (1965), Ribocco (1967), Ribero (1968), The Minstrel (1977), Shergar (1981). France: Five Classics including Prix du Jockey Club - Hard to Beat (1972). Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - Rheingold (1973), Alleged (1977 & 78). United States: Breeders' Cup Mile - Royal Academy (1990), Washington DC International - Sir Ivor (1968), Karabas (1969), Argument (1980).