Lester Piggott’s riding career spanned almost half a century, with his first winner, The Chase, coming at Haydock Park when he was just 12 years old in 1948.
His final winner in Britain, in 1994 and also at Haydock, was on Palacegate Jack for legendary Lancashire trainer Jack Berry, one of Piggott’s greatest pals.
And to celebrate Piggott’s life in the saddle, Haydock Park will mark the anniversary of Piggott’s first victory two years after the end of the Second World War by naming the fourth race of tomorrow’s Ladies Day fixture as the Smarkets Lester Piggott 70th Anniversary Stakes.
“It is incredible to think that Lester rode that winner at Haydock Park a year after he had left elementary school,” said Berry.
“I was lucky enough to have Lester ride for me many times, especially that spell when he came back after retirement, and he was the finest judge of pace in a race I’ve ever seen.
“Lester studied the horse and could read their minds.
“In a race he had a special sense, and he just knew where every horse was in the field.
“You can’t teach that sort of intuition and he was the greatest ever jockey.”
Berry enjoyed huge success as a trainer from his Cockerham training base where he earned the nickname ‘Mr Two-Year-old,’ for his prodigious ability to turn out young winners every season.
Berry, who retired in 2000, added: “The guys today, Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore and Kieren Fallon, before he retired, remain in awe of him.
“Lester’s a modest guy and doesn’t say much.
“Sometimes he pretends to be a bit deaf so he doesn’t have to talk, but believe me he’s still as sharp as a pin and has a fantastic sense of humour.
“If he likes you then he’ll have a chat. If he doesn’t then that’s it.
“Sometimes I’d say: ‘Lester how did you get that horse to win?
“He’d just grin, flash that mischievous smile, pack his saddle up and then he was off into the sunset.”
Piggott lives in Switzerland now but he will return to Haydock Park this weekend and will no doubt be eager to cast an eagle eye over the bronze statue there to mark the first and last winners of his career.
Piggott was crowned Champion Jockey eleven times, clocking up 5,300 winners worldwide – including 4,493 Flat winners in Britain.
“Trainers would try and tell Lester how they wanted the horse rode in the race, but they had no chance,” joked Berry.
“Lester just did his own thing and most of the time he was right. How do you tell a guy who has won 30 English Classics, and nine Epsom Derby titles how to do his job?
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of Lester Piggott’s history, and I’ve a tiny version of the sculpture from Haydock Park on my mantelpiece at home. I was there that day at Haydock Park in 1994, but we had no clue at all that it was going to be Lester’s final winner.”
Jump racing legend Sir AP McCoy said that Piggott was his hero.
“I don’t think there will ever be a jockey who is mentioned in the same breath as Lester Piggott,” said McCoy.
Piggott said: “I’m very grateful to Haydock Park for commemorating a minor race run so very long ago.
“That seller race back in 1948 was to prove the start of a very long career as well and I’m delighted that Haydock Park was at the end of my career too – the course where I rode my final winner in Britain.”
Haydock Park’s two day weekend fixture also includes an Evening at The Races with pop star Paloma Faith appearing at the track tonight.
Tomorrow’s card features the Rose of Lancaster Stakes and the first race is at 1.20pm
Tickets: 0344 579 3006, haydock.thejockeyclub.co.uk