Splendid on Four Legs, Enigmatic on Two

Date: 6 Jun 2022

Splendid on Four Legs, Enigmatic on Two


With the recent loss of champion rider Lester Piggott, we thought you would enjoy this excellent article from the Sydney Morning Herald, published with credit to Max Presnell:


Perhaps this will be the only occasion Dylan Gibbons, the apprentice just cutting loose in the Sydney metropolitan league, will be mentioned in the same paragraph as the recently deceased Lester Piggott, arguably the world's best ever jockey.

Gangly for a hoop Piggott, a splendid vision never forgotten once seen in the saddle, was superbly balanced and a powerhouse: consider an even more effective Nash Rawiller, whose enforcing prowess was seen on the reluctant Maximal a week ago in the Doomben Cup, and could improve Ingratiating in the Queensland Derby Day Stakes at Eagle Farm.

Victorian jockey Michael Poy has been suspended for two months after mistaking the race distance.

Meanwhile Gibbons, 20, could fulfil the prediction of Theo Green, Australia's foremost tutor of apprentice jockeys.

“Back a kid in form because they are riding as well as the seniors and getting a three-kilo claim,” he opined.

Among others Green developed Ron Quinton, Malcolm Johnston and Darren Beadman who weren't out of place against Piggott.

Quinton, too, developed top riders with Sam Clipperton a current example but current trainers Kris Lees, who has nurtured Gibbons, and Mark Newnham are doing a fine job with apprentices, once a cheap and exploited labour force in stables.

https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_2.1164%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_100/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/970cb0b4921e201ba3379b6b4e70043caf107fe6 2x" media="(min-width: 1024px)" />https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_1.9259%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_100/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/970cb0b4921e201ba3379b6b4e70043caf107fe6 2x" media="(min-width: 768px)" />https://static.ffx.io/images/$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_0.8862%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_100/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/970cb0b4921e201ba3379b6b4e70043caf107fe6 2x" alt="Legendary hoop Lester Piggott after winning the 1954 Derby on Never Say Die." width="335" height="224" />

Legendary hoop Lester Piggott after winning the 1954 Derby on Never Say Die.CREDIT:AP

Already Gibbons drives his own car and is well on the way to acquiring a home unit outright. Lees has seasoned him around bush and provincial circuits, the result of which can be seen with his strong book at Rosehill Gardens today. Most will require more than sit and steer assistance.

Don't mention that overrated bleat “luck”, which never came into the dialogue around Piggott, so good on horseback but an enigma on ground level.

Introverted, he had trouble hearing and a stutter. Yes, he cut a memorable if sometimes brutal path during races but served hard gaol time for tax evasion. The two sides of him were seen in Australia when he did a tour for the entrepreneur John Scott.

“Lester didn't pay for anything,” recalled the late Scotty, his sponsor, manager, punter and minder here.

“We mapped out an itinerary where Lester would come out to Australia for a month in the early 1980s. I had a personal involvement: he had to have $2000 on everything he rode. That was on the side.

“We went to Eagle Farm, Lester rode five winners. They had a whip-round in the jockeys' room for an injured jockey. Mentioned it to Lester and he just did his normal thing, shook his head and said ... ‘Nnnna, nooo' he stammered. Midway through the program one of the locals said to me: ‘You tell that Pommy bastard we'll lock him up in the sauna if he doesn't give something.” Scotty paid.

Fortunately I was in the United Kingdom in 1963 when Piggott was in full flight, triggered even further by the competition of our Scobie Breasley. Piggott, then 27, rode with a whip as long as a beach fishing rod, whirling it like a singing sword around his mount's ear before applying a massive thump on a highly effective thump on the rump.

Still the British ace (175) couldn't beat the gentle Breasley (176) in the jockeys' championship. Breasley, 49, applied the whip as a last resort with the expertise coming from hands and uncanny judgment of pace.

Mutual respect but no love was lost between the pair. Piggott once did Breasley wrong in a lowly Wolverhampton race.

“My first reaction was to give him a smack on the nose but the only way to hurt him most was in the pocket,” Breasley later recalled.

Thus when Piggott rode Petite Etoile (5/2 on), the outstanding filly in the 1960 season, in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Breasley, on unplaced Sunny Court, locked her up in pocket that sixpence couldn't have squeezed through.

Under normal circumstance he would have given Piggott right of way.

“Everyone thought Lester had ridden a bad race,” Breasley explained. Asked what had happened later Piggott replied: “I think they cut the grass the wrong way.”


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