Newmarket: Why the great Lester Piggot has left a lasting legacy at the home of racing

Take a stroll through Newmarket, and the town's unrivaled horse racing heritage and history hits you straight away.

As the home of the sport, it has hosted some of the very best jockeys and trainers down the years, but very few, if any, have left a mark like the great Lester Piggott.

In Piggott's case, the term 'mark' can be applied quite literally.

The 11-time champion jockey has a street named after him, as well as a much-coveted paving stone on Newmarket's equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame - the 'Legends of the Turf'.

Lester Piggot has a spot on the 'Legends of the Turf' walk through Newmarket high street, as well as a road named after him. Credit: ITV News Anglia

In 2019, he was also honoured with his very own bronze statue at the town's iconic Rowley Mile course - the scene of some of his greatest triumphs.

Mr Piggott won the prestigious 2,000 Guineas there five times, one of 30 British Classic race victories.

Those 30 victories included a record nine Derby wins at Epsom.

Newmarket-based racing journalist David Milnes shared many happy memories with Piggott down the years, and says there's one story that stands out above the rest.

Racing journalist David Milnes alongside the statue of Lester Piggott at Newmarket. Credit: ITV News Anglia

"My own personal Lester story was from 1987, and Lester was actually in retirement then," he said.

"Sir Henry Cecil (legendary trainer) wanted to find something out about his horse Reference Point who was going for the Derby that year, and he called on Lester to ride him in a pre-Epsom gallop at Newmarket.

"Lester was last of four in the race. Henry and the owners walked off despondent, but when the horse came back to the car park, Lester said: 'He'll win the Derby.'

"They were stunned, but it later transpired that Lester had let the other horses have a 25-length head start, just as his way of finding out how good the horse was, and sure enough, the horse won the Derby."

Councillor Philippa Winter, the newly elected Mayor of Newmarket, knew Lester Piggott for 65 years. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Remarkably, the first of Piggott's wins came as a 12-year-old at Haydock in 1948.

He was riding a horse called The Chase that day which was owned by the mother of the newly-elected Mayor of Newmarket, Philippa Winter.

The partnership sparked what would turn out to be a 65-year friendship between Piggott and Ms Winter, as both families remained close.

"We've done all sorts of things together, he often came round on Boxing Day with his family for lunch," Ms Winter told ITV News Anglia.

"As a person, he was shy, but he had an amazing dry sense of humour. He was very good at one-liners and was a very kind person."

Piggott's last win would also come at Haydock in 1994.

By then, he was 58 years old, and had ridden an incredible 4,493 winners.

The Lester Piggott display at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket. Credit: ITV News Anglia

His achievements have been turned into a display at Newmarket's National Horseracing Museum - a reminder to future generations of his remarkable legacy.

"He won the derby nine times, I believe he was champion jockey 11 times," said the museum's director, Anne-Marie Hogan.

"Quite frankly we still haven't seen his like, and I don't think we're probably ever likely to see anyone like him again."

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