In Dreams I Walk with You

I had a recurring dream the other night where somebody kept asking me in which year Lester Piggott won the Derby on Affirmed. Lester Piggott was one of the greatest flat race jockeys in the world, arguably the greatest. He won the Derby an unprecedented nine times, and I kept repeating that Piggott never rode Affirmed. Affirmed was an American horse ridden by an American jockey, Steve Cauthen, who won the triple crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes) on Affirmed in 1977.

My tormenter then challenged me to name the horses that Piggott rode to win the Derby nine times. For the record Steve Cauthen won the Derby twice with Slip Anchor and Reference Point, making him the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby. I could only remember two of the horses that Piggott rode to victory; Nijinsky and Sir Ivor. I tossed and turned for the remainder of the night trying to recall the names of the other horses to no avail.

Mercifully, morning arrived and Google, aided and abetted by Wikipedia, came to my rescue I was able to look up an article  which listed the maestro’s winners and  Lester Piggott commented on his nine wins in the Derby:

1. NEVER SAY DIE (1954, 33-1)
He was a left-handed horse and not nearly so good when he raced right.

2. CREPELLO (1957, 6-4 fav)
One of the two best horses I won the Derby on. He took the 2,000 Guineas but had bad legs and was hard for Sir Noel Murless to keep sound. He broke down when training for the St Leger and never ran again.

3. ST PADDY (1960, 7-1)
He was good and we knew that before he ran at York first time out as a two-year-old. But he ran away with me on the way to the post and had a race before he started. Next time out they put a gag on him and he won the Royal Lodge by five lengths. He was fourth in the Guineas, won the Dante and took the Derby by three lengths.

4. SIR IVOR (1968, 4-5 fav)
He had spent the winter in Italy before winning the Guineas and Derby. He then got beat in his next four races, but ended up winning the Champion Stakes and Washington International. I know he got beaten a few times, but of all my Derby winners he had the most brilliance about him.

5. NIJINSKY (1970, 11-8 fav)
He was the last horse to win the Triple Crown with the Irish Derby and King George thrown in for good measure, but I never thought it was a great year.

6. ROBERTO (1972 3-1 fav)
His win was overshadowed by controversy. Bill Williamson won the Guineas on him but was injured and I got on him. I couldn’t see him being beaten in the Irish Derby next time, but he only beat two home.

7. EMPERY (1976, 10-1)
Probably just a middle-class Derby winner in an average Classic crop.

8. THE MINSTREL (1977, 5-1)
He was pretty good and went on to win the Irish Derby – but it was only a so-so year for three-year-olds.

9. TEENOSO (1983, 9-2)
He was a bit better than people gave him credit for. It rained all day at Epsom, which turned the ground soft. He won very easily and, as my last winner, is one of my best recollections of the race.

I never had much interest in horse racing save for a flutter on the Grand National and the Derby. My late Dad however enjoyed a daily bet. Once he retired, his routine for the day was to study the racing form in the Daily Mirror, select his horses, and walk up to the “bookies” and place his bet which was usually “a Yankee.” He would then return home and watch the races on television in the afternoon.  He never used to bet much, so gambler’s anonymous were never troubled.  My ex father-in-law roughly followed the same ritual as my dad.

His little hobby once embarrassed my ex-wife who I was dating at the time. She was staying the night at a friend’s house on the posh side of Swansea, the Mayals. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet)  in the sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances” could have been based on her friend’s mother. Anyway, during a conversation the mother asks my ex-wife: “Does your father have any hobbies, dear?” She replied: “Yes, horse racing.” “Oh really, how many does he own and where does he stable them?” The mortified girl replied: “He doesn’t own any horses, he bets on them!”


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