29 May 2022

Nine glorious Derby moments for Lester Piggott

29 May 2022

Lester Piggott won the Derby a remarkable nine times. Keith Hamer looks at the victories that helped make Piggott such a household name:

Never Say Die (1954)

Never Say Die was Lester Piggott’s first Derby winner – at 33-1 (PA) (PA Archive)

Piggott showed maturity way beyond his 18 years when becoming the youngest jockey to win the blue riband. Never Say Die may have been a 33-1 shot, but Piggott rode the Joe Lawson-trained colt with great confidence. After lying handy in the first six, Piggott took him to the outside in the straight and he stretched clear to score by two lengths from Arabian Night.

Crepello (1957)

Lester Piggott made no mistake at Epsom on hot favourite Crepello (PA) (PA Archive)

Piggott’s second Derby success was much more expected, as his partner Crepello had won the 2000 Guineas and was sent off the 6-4 favourite. Noel Murless’ talented but fragile colt outclassed the opposition. Winning in a time just outside the course record set by Mahmoud in 1936, Crepello had a top-class horse in Ballymoss in second place, beaten a length and a half. Talk of the Triple Crown was dashed when Crepello went badly lame. He never ran again.

St Paddy (1960)

Lester Piggott had a rare smile as he returned on St Paddy following Derby glory (PA) (PA Archive)

Piggott and Murless struck again with St Paddy, who relished the step up in trip after finishing sixth in the Guineas. In touch with the leaders from the start, the 7-1 shot was always travelling comfortably and won smoothly by three lengths from Alcaeus. St Paddy went on to win the St Leger.

Sir Ivor (1968)

Sir Ivor was one of the best horses Lester Piggott ever rode (PA) (PA Archive)

Described by Piggott as the best horse he ever rode, Sir Ivor had to produce a special performance to win the Derby. Sent on his way the 4-5 favourite to back up his victory in the 2000 Guineas, the Classic double looked doubtful two furlongs out, with Connaught sailing into a five-length lead. However, the Vincent O’Brien-trained colt produced a sensational burst of speed to reel in the leader and be a length and a half ahead at the line.

Nijinsky (1970)

The mighty Nijinsky struck Derby gold in 1970 (PA) (PA Archive)

Named after the famed Russian ballet dancer of the early 20th century, Nijinsky galloped into racing immortality by becoming first horse to win the Triple Crown since Bahram 35 years earlier. The Derby was the middle leg of that particular Holy Grail and racegoers at Epsom witnessed an impeccable performance from another horse representing the Piggott-O’Brien combination. The result was never in any doubt as Nijinsky cruised past he French race Gyr to win by two and a half lengths. No horse has won the Triple Crown since.

Roberto (1972)

Roberto just got the better of a battle with Rheingold at Epsom (PA) (PA Archive)

After controversially replacing Bill Williamson, Piggott made the most of the opportunity on this talented O’Brien inmate. The finish itself was dramatic, with Roberto locked in a ding-dong battle with Rheingold. They crossed the line virtually inseparable, Roberto getting the verdict by a nostril thanks to a vigorous ride from the master. It was not over there, though. A 20-minute stewards’ inquiry kept connections on tenterhooks before Roberto could eventually be hailed the winner.

Empery (1976)


Another masterclass from Piggott as he became the winning-most Derby jockey on the French raider, trained by Maurice Zilber. Henry Cecil’s Wollow was the hot favourite at 11-10, with Empery second-favourite at 10-1 – mainly due to Piggott’s popularity with the betting public. Empery was clear best in the race, as he romped home by three lengths from Relkino, with Wollow only fifth.

The Minstrel (1977)

The Minstrel and Lester Piggott on the way to winning the King George at Ascot (PA) (PA Archive)

Piggott had a willing partner in The Minstrel who got up close home to beat Hot Grove by a neck in a thrilling finish. The Minstrel was nearer last than first in the early stages, but Piggott made his move to counter that of Willie Carson, who had sent Hot Grove on early in the straight. Gradually reducing the lead, The Minstrel got his head in front to give Piggott and O’Brien another success in the premier Classic.

Teenoso (1983)

Derby hero Teenoso was also a seventh King George winner for Lester Piggott (PA) (PA Archive)

The going may have been heavy, but it was so easy for Piggott on what was his final Derby triumph. It was all so straightforward on the mud-loving Teenoso for trainer Geoff Wragg. Close to the pace from the start, Piggott made the most of the horse’s stamina by kicking on fully three furlongs from home. Carlingford Castle stayed on, but it was as all over, with Teenoso winning by three lengths.

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