“True titan, sporting icon and superb tactician” Lester Piggott dies aged 86

The controversial racing jockey, described in tributes as a “legend, icon and superb tactician”, has died in a hospital in Switzerland

Lester Piggott
Lester Piggott has died at the age of 86

Lester Piggott was a man of few words in public and spoke from the saddle – and few in the history of horse racing did it more eloquently.

His seemingly flawless skills and instincts, along with his ruthless streak, helped make him a winning machine loved by millions across the country.

Piggott, who died in a hospital in Switzerland at the age of 86, rode his first winner at the age of 12 and his last at the age of 58.

He fell out of favor when he was jailed for tax fraud.

But his standing as perhaps Britain’s greatest flat racing jockey has never been questioned.

Jockey Frankie Dettori said: “He was a legend. We’ve always tried to be like him and none of us can do that. We all grew up wanting to be like him.”

Rod Street, Managing Director of Great British Racing, said: “Lester was a true titan of the sport, going beyond horse racing.” Five-time Jockey Champion Willie Carson said: “I feel like I’ve lost a part of my life, as Lester has been a part of my life since I got into racing.

Piggott on the racehorse Nijinsky in 1970

“He’s a legend. We got lucky with some ding-dongs on the track. He made us all better because we had to be better to beat him… He was so magical on a horse.”

Piggott was known for his sense of purpose and was not averse to calling up trainers to get rides he thought he could win, regardless of the officiating jockey. Carson added, “He had the confidence because he didn’t care about others where normal people worry about doing the wrong thing.

“This man has never shown any pressure for some reason. He rode his horses with so much confidence.

“I wouldn’t call him a close friend, but over the years you become more and more endearing to each other.

The controversial jockey was jailed for tax fraud


Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecours)

“We had a racing life together and I wish I had been as good as he was.”

Another former champion jockey, Kieren Fallon, said: “Everyone was impressed with him, especially us young riders.

“I was in the box riding a good filly and Lester was in the box next to me. He said, “What are you doing?” and I couldn’t wait to tell him – I was going to run.

In 1985 he retired and became a coach



“He popped up behind me and 100 yards from the leash which he pulled out and… boom. He hit me. He knew she was the one to beat and if I hadn’t told him what I was doing it might have been a different story.

“It was a great education to get from a master. You never show your hand. It was just typical of him. I think I called him “sir” in the stalls too.

“He was such a legend. Everyone tried to strive to be like Lester.

In 1987 he was sentenced to three years in prison


(Getty Images)

“Lester was such an icon, a brilliant driver and a superb tactician.”

Piggott, born in 1935, retired as a jockey in 1985 and became a trainer. But in 1987 he was sentenced to three years in prison for tax fraud of more than £3million.

There was an alleged omission of £1.3million from extra riding earnings and £1million from blood bank operations over the course of over a decade.

Piggott reportedly used different names to channel his earnings to secret bank accounts in Switzerland, the Bahamas, Singapore and the Cayman Islands.

The judge noted that last year Piggott even misled his own accountants “until the matter was pushed out of you.”

Riding at the 191st Derby Stakes at Epsom



After conviction, he was stripped of his OBE, which he had been awarded in 1975. Piggott served 366 days in prison.

After his release he resumed his career as a jockey. In 1994, aged 58, he was hospitalized after suffering bruises and a mild concussion in a fall at Goodwood.

But he got back in the saddle and kept winning before retiring one last time in 1995. He lived his entire career near Newmarket, Suffolk before emigrating to Rolle in Switzerland with his partner Lady Barbara FitzGerald, although he was still legally married to his wife Susanne. Piggott died a week after being hospitalized.

His cause of death was not disclosed, although he had a history of heart problems. The father of three, who kept his finances secret, is estimated to have left an estate of £10million.

Speaking at Haydock Park on Saturday, his daughter Maureen Haggas had said he was “much better” than earlier in the week and hopefully will “go home either Monday or Tuesday.”

He was born in 1935


S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sports)

He met the Queen on several occasions


(Getty Images)

Piggot was the father of three children. He also leaves behind a son, Jamie, from a relationship with Anna Ludlow, his personal assistant at the time.

Aidan O’Brien, the current trainer at Ballydoyle shipyard in Co Tipperary, where Piggott has had so much success with Vincent O’Brien, said: “He was a very special man, he came here every year around the Classic time and we came to go through all the horses and he would give his thoughts on it.

“He didn’t say much, but every word he said was really captured.

“It was an absolute privilege that we knew him.”

Trainer Sir Michael Stoute said: “Lester was a genius on a racehorse. I don’t think there was a better one.

“Lester could be very entertaining when he was in the mood…he had a great sense of humor.

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“But sometimes it was difficult to talk to him. He’s an icon, a brilliant jockey. Many have tried to be like him and no one has come close to him.

“There are very few people in racing who are known by their first name, Frankie [Dettori]Lester, probably Henry [Cecil] – and by the general public, not just us humans who think it’s a huge world in our business.

“You mention Lester’s name, everyone knows Lester, everyone has a story to tell about Lester. Whether they were supporting him somewhere at five o’clock or bumping into him, he was global.”

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