What will Lester pick in the Derby? Dushyantor

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The Independent Online
When they built the gleaming new Queen's Stand at Epsom, the Lester Piggott era was already drawing to a close, but a permanent reminder of the greatest Derby jockey of them all was added to the furniture yesterday when Piggott unveiled a paddockside wrought-iron gateway, decorated with reminders of his major Epsom winners, through which every Derby runner will pass.

The tribute to the man who rode a record nine Derby winners between 1954 and 1983 is similar to those in honour of Bill Shankly at Anfield and W G Grace at Lord's, and few would disagree that in his prime, Piggott dominated his sport as thoroughly as those great figures. As Peter O'Sullevan's tribute, which is also mounted on the new gates, puts it: "No jockey has exercised a greater hold on the imagination of the sporting public. Annually, as the month of June approached, the cardinal question was: 'What will Lester ride in the Derby?'."

After becoming the first person to ride through the Piggott Gates aboard another fondly remembered veteran, the ex-sprinter Perion, the jockey said: "When I heard about the idea of the gates, I was delighted. The history and tradition of the Derby make it very special."

One recent change to the Derby tradition does not meet with Piggott's approval. "Running it on a Saturday looked like the best thing to do at the time," he said, "but probably this year will tell whether it was or not. I think everybody was so used to it being on Wednesday that more people came, and I'd like to see it moved back."

As to which of Saturday's runners Piggott expects to join the roll of winners, the jockey is somewhat biased towards Shaamit, trained by his son-in-law William Haggas, but in any case he appears just as confused as the punters. "Of course I'd like to see Shaamit win, it would be like my 10th winner," Piggott said. "I think he's got a good each-way chance. Apart from that you could fancy eight horses in the race, but I think Dushyantor will go very well. He's improving and a mile and a half will suit him."

Another innovation at Epsom this year will be a series of markers around the course to commemorate the points at which every winner since 1952 hit the front. They range from just a few yards from the start (Slip Anchor in 1985) to the shadow of the post itself (Roberto, with Piggott at his most ferocious, in 1972).

The Epsom course looked splendid in the long-awaited summer sunshine yesterday, but it will appear a little more daunting to Olivier Peslier, rider of leading Derby contender Glory Of Dancer, when he sets out on his first ride in the Epsom Classic. The Frenchman, however, appears to be losing little sleep over the prospect.

"I know that Mr Kelleway [Paul, the colt's trainer] is trying to arrange rides for me before the Derby," he said. "I have also accumulated international experience in America, Japan and Dubai, and I would like to think I can put that to good use."

Even Top, another of the Derby favourites, appears none the worse for a recent poisoned foot, while other Epsom news was of the negative variety, with Matty Cowing, Lanfranco Dettori's agent, firmly denying rumours that his man would switch from Shantou, a rank outsider, to the quietly fancied Mystic Knight.

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