I took this photograph of Lester Piggott on one of his excursions to Australia. In later times Lester has returned to ride in exhibition races conducted for former great jockeys (of the world) and held during the Flemington Spring carnival. They are a novelty. I chose not to watch him ride in these races that are pretend and exhibition. I have memories of him as a ruthless competitor, someone who was both calculating and reckless, and the best jockey of a generation. Lester has been many things, but never a novelty.
All I know of this photograph now is the date written on the other side of the print: Feb 85. I do know that Lester Piggott won the Australasian Oaks on Centaurea in Adelaide in 1985. It was the time when he announced his retirement from racing and went on a farewell tour which would include riding engagements in several states of Australia. He would then return home to England to take up training. Although reasonably successful, his time as a trainer would be brief as in 1987 he was sentenced to a prison term of three years for tax evasion (the actor Wesley Snipes now also suffering a similar fate in the US. Taxes are not optional). Piggott served 366 days, returned to training, but found that he now had only a handful of horses in his stable and a struggle ahead to rebuild to even the moderate heights of success he was enjoying in this his new role.
It was not surprising that Piggott would then return to the saddle again in 1990, and within days of this decision he won one of the most prestigious races in the US (the Breeders’ Cup mile) on Royal Academy. He rode until (this time) his permanent retirement in 1995. He was then 60 years old.
Relating back to an earlier post, Lester Piggott was quite tall for a jockey at 1.73 metres tall (nicknamed ‘The Longfellow’). Like many of his contemporaries of relatively normal build (who choose to starve themselves for sport and profession) his diet was not something advised by health authorities: large cigars and small coffees proved to be the fuel for many days. Not surprisingly he has suffered from some health problems in recent years, and did spend some time in intensive care in Switzerland as a result of a heart problem.
Lester Piggott rode his first winner at age twelve. A career that began precocious was full of great heights and despairing lows, but was also a career of great longevity. Lester was born on the 5th of November 1935.
The 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day.
Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...
The film, V For Vendetta, was based and built around this rhyme and true story of The Gunpowder Plot. It was one of my most enjoyable movie experiences in recent times with its exploration of the opposing themes of fascism and anarchy. The Wachowski brothers redeemed themselves with this screenplay and shared direction after the debacle and decline of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution which followed the brilliant (first and original) The Matrix.
In V For Vendetta Hugo Weaving must act behind the limitations of a Guy Fawkes mask, yet he can evoke emotions and provide character development that many actors must envy. And with a further link to an earlier post (on RacingWrite) John Hurt plays Adam Sutler, the fascist leader of a New Britain. V For Vendetta is a film of pyrotechnics and swashbuckling action, as well as being an allegory for the state of the modern world and governments comfortable to promote the spectre of fear to keep a population pliable and acquiescent. Considering that this film and screenplay has been adapted from a graphic novel (a comic) it has surprising depth and insight.
Lester Piggott has often been a misrepresented figure. The arrogance and perceived distance that the press would often remark upon was no doubt a creation of his lifelong impediment of deafness that separated him from conversation and comment and always made him appear aloof. But there is also no doubting that he did grow into the role and typecast and has been mostly a difficult character. An interesting life. Fittingly born on the day of bonfire and fireworks that mark and celebrate another character from British history.