Favourite Jockey – Lester Piggott

Favourite Jockey - Lester Piggott It may have been a few years since Lester Piggott, who turned 83 in November, 2018, was known as the “Housewives’ Choice” but, in his heyday, he was not so much a jockey as a phenomenon. In a riding career which lasted nearly half a century – including a five-year hiatus between 1985 and 1990, a year of which he spent under lock and key for income tax evasion – Piggott rode 4,493 winners in Britain and was champion jockey 11 times, including eight years running between 1964 and 1971. His winning tally included 30 British Classics and, in 1970, he became the last jockey to win the ‘Triple Crown’ – 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger – on Nijinksy.

Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock Park in 1948 as a precocious 12-year-old and by the time he rode the first of his nine Derby winners, Never Say Die, in 1954, he had developed a reputation as a reckless wunderkind, who regularly courted controversy. In fact, he had his licence revoked, albeit unjustly, for causing interference on the same horse in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, just two weeks after winning the Derby. Later in his career, though, Piggott forged profitable associations with Noel Murless Vincent O’Brien and Henry Cecil – three of the finest trainers in the history of horse racing – which led to him riding some of the great horses of the twentieth century, including not just Nijinksy, but Crepello, Sir Ivor, The Minstrel, to name but a few.

Alternatively nicknamed the “Long Fellow”, because of his height and his distinctive, but much imitated, riding style, and “Old Stoneface”, because of his undemonstrative, taciturn demeanour, Piggott was naturally gifted, tactically astute, tough and determined. He did, however, have a ruthless streak and would think nothing of “jocking off” his contemporaries, regardless of any loyalty shown to them by an owner or trainer, if he thought it was to his advantage. Indeed, he only rode Commanche Run, the horse on which he won his twenty-eighth Classic, the St. Leger in 1984 – thereby breaking a 200-year-old record set by Frank Buckle – because he browbeat owner Ivan Allen into believing that American jockey Darrell McHargue, despite being retained by trainer Luca Cumani, “couldn’t ride a bicycle”.

Favourite Horse – Desert Orchid

Favourite Horse - Desert Orchid Aside from his innate ability, over hurdles and fences, ‘Dessie’, as he was affectionately known to his legions of followers, always looked like a winner. His grey coat became lighter with age – in fact, always white – such that, in the latter part of his career, he created the impression of a ghostly apparition being pursued across the landscape by lesser, mortal horses.

No mean hurdler – he was sent off second favourite for the Champion Hurdle, when still a novice, in 1983 – it was in his later career, as a steeplechaser, that Desert Orchid captured the public imagination. Renowned for his bold, attacking style and his versatility, he won 34 of his 71 races, including the King George VI Chase at Kempton four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Indeed, his victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was arguably his finest hour; hating the heavy ground and, according to jockey Simon Sherwood, a two stone lesser horse going left-handed, Desert Orchid looked beaten when coming under pressure between the last two fences, but rallied to overhaul confirmed mudlark Yahoo halfway up the run-in to win by 1½ lengths.

Unlike some of the ‘precious’ steeplechasers of recent years, Desert Orchid regularly ran in handicaps, often conceding eye-watering amounts of weight, which only added to his appeal. In early December, 1988, as a 9-year-old Desert Orchid made all the running to give the 81-rated Jim Thorpe 20lb and a very easy, 12-length beating in the Tingle Creek Chase, over 2 miles, at Sandown Park. Just over three weeks later, on Boxing Day, he beat his old rival Kildimo, by a comfortable 4 lengths, to win the King George VI Chase, over 3 miles, at Kempton for the second time and, less than three weeks later, rallied to beat the 83-rated Panto Prince, who was receiving 22lb, by a head in the Victor Chandler Chase, back over 2 miles, at Ascot. In April, 1990, as an 11-year-old, he conceded 28lb to all bar one of his rivals, who received 26lb, in the Irish Grand National, over 3 miles 4 furlongs, at Fairyhouse and won by 12 lengths.

Favourite Jockey – Frankie Dettori

Favourite Jockey - Frankie Dettori Milanese jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori, 48, has been riding winners in Britain since 1987 and in 2016 reached the milestone of 3,000 winners in this country. Originally apprenticed to Luca Cumani, Dettori won the Apprentice Jockeys’ Championship in 1989 and in 1990 became the first teenager since Lester Piggott to ride over 100 winners – 141, to be precise – in a season.

Four years later, in 1994, Dettori was offered a retainer with the Godolphin operation, founded by Sheikh Mohammed in 1992 and, in the famous royal blue silks, would ride 110 Group One, or Grade One, winners over the next 18 years. He would become known for his ‘flying dismount’ – apparently borrowed from Puerto Rican jockey Angel Cordero Jnr. – and, aside from his riding ability, for his effervescent, gregarious personality, which made him a celebrity who transcended horse racing.

Dettori has won the jockeys’ championship three times, in 1994, 1995 and 2004, but is probably best remembered for his so-called ‘Magnificent Seven’. On British Champions’ Day at Ascot in 1996, Dettori went ‘through the card’, riding seven winners from as many rides, at accumulative odds of over 25,000/1. All in all, Dettori has won 17 English ‘Classics’, although it did take 14 unsuccessful attempts before he won the Derby, on Authorized, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, in 2007.

Having found himself regularly sidelined by Mickael Barzalona and Silvestre de Sousa, who were hired by Sheikh Mohammed in the spring of 2012, Dettori announced his decision to leave Godolphin the following season to ride on a freelance basis. In September, though, he tested positive for a banned substance, which he later admitted was cocaine, during a routine examination at Longchamp and was subsequently suspended from riding for six months.

On his return to the saddle, after a brief period riding as a freelance, Dettori was appointed first jockey to Al Shaqab Racing, founded by Qatari royal Sheikh Joaan al Thani, in July, 2013. The association lasted for five years but, in July, 2018, Dettori – who had already agreed to a substantial pay cut the previous January – announced that it had come to an end. In recent years, Dettori has resumed his association with his old friend and ally John Gosden, who has provided the bulk of his rides and several high-profile winners, including Golden Horn, Cracksman and Enable.