Lester Piggott, Britain’s 11-time champion jockey, is recovering in intensive care at a Swiss hospital in Lausanne after he was hospitalized May 15 due to the recurrence of a heart problem that initially appeared last December.
The 71-year-old Piggott, who retired from race riding in 1994, was to be honored May 19 with “Lester Piggott Day” at Newmarket Racecourses’ NatWest Rowley Mile, which has been the scene of several of his career highlights – including multiple victories in the Stan James 2000 Guineas (ENG-I). Newmarket announced May 16 that festivities in the jockey’s honor will be postponed until the autumn race meeting so Piggott may attend.
"Lester was so looking forward to the day, to meeting his many fans and hosting his family and friends at the racecourse,” said Lisa Hancock, managing director of Newmarket. “Even as he lay in his hospital bed yesterday he was expressing his determination to be back here for Saturday. That won't be possible, but now, as he convalesces, he can still look forward to it later in the year.”
Piggott’s son-in-law, trainer William Haggas, told the BBC that the former jockey is resting comfortably and is not in imminent danger.
“Everyone knows that if you have been in hospital with a heart condition and you go back in and enter intensive care it is a worry and it is a fear,” Haggas said. “But I am assured…that he is going to be fine."
“As far as I understand, Lester will need a fair bit of recovery, but certainly no one fears for his life,” said Alistair Haggis, a spokesman for Newmarket. “We were very saddened to hear the news that (his) heart problem had recurred, and everyone at Newmarket wishes him all the very best for a full and speedy recovery.”
This year marks the 50-year anniversary of Piggott's first 2000 Guineas win. In honor of “Lester Piggott Day,” The National Horseracing Museum had borrowed pictures, trophies, and memorabilia from Piggott's home to create a special display in a racecourse marquee. Each of the seven races on that day were to be named after the jockey’s Guineas winners, while footage of those historic victories was to be played on large screens prior to each race.
"All the elements that were to have made up the day… will be put on ice until the autumn,” Hancock said. “A very likely date is Sept. 22, but we will wait until we have talked it through with Lester in due course when he returns to Newmarket.”
Arguably the greatest British jockey ever to grace the turf, Piggott retired after a riding career which saw him partner 4,493 winners at home with many more abroad. Only Sir Gordon Richards and Pat Eddery are ahead of Piggott in the list of all-time most successful riders in Britain.
His haul of 30 British Classics included a record nine Epsom Derby (ENG-I) victories, the first of which came as an 18-year-old on Never Say Die in 1954, with his last aboard Teenoso in 1983.
An enigmatic character on and off the racecourse, Piggott was sentenced to three years in prison in 1987 for an alleged tax fraud of over £3m, but made an amazing return to the saddle to land the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr.I) at Belmont Park on Royal Academy for Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien, with whom Piggott enjoyed phenomenal success.
Reporter Mark Popham contributed to this article