Health

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Jamie Piggott: apprentice legend

Lester's son, Tracy's brother, Keith's grandson, Ernest's great grandson – the young jockey has lots to live up to . . . No pressure then.

Jamie Piggott, pictured at RACE, Curragh house in Kildare. Photo: El Keegan
Jamie Piggott pictured with his sister Tracy.
Jamie Piggott pictured with his sister Tracy.
Lester on Desert Orchid with Jamie when he was four, and mum Anna Ludlow.

Son of legendary jockey Lester and younger brother to former jockey and racing pundit Tracy, Jamie Piggott comes from a rich heritage of horse-racing stock.

The young jockey was also born into a family that have deep roots as jockeys and trainers, with Jamie's great grandfather Ernest Piggott winning three Grand Nationals in 1912, 1918 and 1919 and his grandfather Keith Piggott riding a Champion Hurdle winner in 1939.

"It's just my family to me. I feel very proud to look back and see the success that my ancestors and current family have enjoyed in the world of horse racing."

The 20-year-old from Newmarket in Suffolk, England, is currently based in Cashel, Co Tipperary, as during the racing season he works for trainer Aidan O'Brien and former National Hunt racing jockey and now trainer Tommy Stack.

"My father rode at Aidan's yard, which is called Ballydoyle, about 40 years ago. At that time it was occupied by legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien. It's a great honour to be riding somewhere with so much history, and the same place that my father shared in so much success," says Jamie.

It was inevitable coming from a famous racing family with a father at the helm who was an 11-time champion and nine-time Derby winner riding more than 5,000 winners, that horses were to become Jamie's great passion from an early age.

"I've always been involved with horses and horse racing. I learnt to ride growing up in Newmarket and first rode a racehorse out for trainer Rae Guest in my school holidays, when I was 12 years of age. I got some lessons on the basics of exercising racehorses from the instructors at the British racing school."

However, it was always made clear to the young jockey by his parents Lester Piggott and Anna Ludlow that education must come first.

"For this reason it was difficult to gain much experience or strength at riding, as I would ride for a few weeks of the holidays and then lose the fitness and confidence before the next time."

During his final two years at school, he focused on maths and science before taking part in the Irish pony racing circuit where he completed a few races.

"I completed my A-levels in maths and three sciences before giving riding a go. I did less riding and more work in other areas of racing, such as at the racehorse sales, equine veterinary practices, and on stud farms."

Coming to Ireland in July 2012 after finishing his exams, he went to work as a stud hand at Coolmore Stud in Fethard, Co Tipperary, the world's largest breeding operation of thoroughbred racehorses.

"I wasn't riding but instead preparing the yearlings, young horses of between one and two years old for either the horse sales, or to go into training in a racing yard.

"I've only been riding properly since November 2012. I've been riding out in Tommy Stack's and have been there full time since before the winter – hopefully, I can make a career of being a jockey now."

Jamie, however, is a late starter in the jockey profession when one compares him with his father who began riding horses when he was only 10 years of age and going on to win his first race in 1948 at the tender age of 12.

"I always wanted to be a jockey, but when I was younger I never really rode for enough time, as it was only during school holidays, so because of this I lacked confidence in my riding ability and attempted other professions in the racing industry."

Lester went on to become a teenage sensation, riding his first winner of the Epsom Derby on Never Say Die in 1954 aged 18 years and winning an astonishing eight more.

So what's it like to be a son of the jockey affectionately known as 'The Long Fellow' who had such a sparkling and accomplished career as one of the most well-known English flat racing jockeys of all time?

"To be honest, I don't know any different. There's a lot of pressure when I ride, not from him, but because everyone expects more from me than usual."

Now an apprentice to Stack, whose name has been at the forefront of the training ranks for quite some time, Jamie speaks very highly of the former jockey, who is probably best known for piloting Red Rum to a third Grand National victory.

"The Stack family have been hugely supportive to me and my family over the years. My sister Tracy was assistant trainer and lived with the family when she first came to Ireland in the 1980s.

"I used to stay with them for a few weeks each summer, when I was younger. In July 2013 I took out my apprentice jockey's licence, with Tommy and Fozzy Stack, and they were kind enough to give me five race rides in my first season."

Getting compared to father Lester is inevitable but something Jamie takes in his stride. "It doesn't annoy me as he was one of a kind. I love hearing about the incredible career he has had."

With big boots to fill, does the youngster think he can be as good as his predecessor?

"No one can," he laughs.

Jamie took part in his first professional race last July as soon as he got his licence with the Stacks, riding Pivotal Rock in the 2.55 at the Killarney races with a seventh place finish out of 13 riders in the Grand Live Music Venue Handicap flat race.

"It was a day I'll never forget, as everyone remembers their first race. The support I received from fans of my father was incredible. I was due to ride a different horse which didn't run, so therefore the first time I rode him was on the racetrack. He's a very genuine horse and was great to ride as an inexperienced jockey."

With a gruelling training schedule, Jamie rides out 13 mornings a fortnight on between three and five horses a day.

"We also do work in the yard for a few hours in the afternoons if I'm not race riding that day."

Fighting against the scales, a common issue for any jockey, it can be a struggle to maintain his minimum weight in order to make the weight on a light ride.

"I eat a lot of fruit, vegetables and salads. A high-fibre diet is important to try and feel as full as possible, while eating as few calories as possible. Finding a balance between keeping a low weight, and eating enough so that I have enough energy to perform well is important. Therefore exercising is needed to keep that balance.

"High-intensity workouts are the best to keep light, strong and fit. Every jockey is different and so as an apprentice I have to learn what diet and exercise regime is the best for the lifestyle through trial and error."

Still to have a winner on the track, the son of the flat-racing legend will be trying to gain as many race rides as possible in the coming season.

"I would obviously like to pick up my first winner. Like all of us apprentices it can be a challenge to pick up race rides, since we can be riding against professional jockeys with much more experience."

His dad Lester is now 78 and spends a lot of his time in Switzerland; however, he comes over to Ireland regularly.

"I also try to visit him in Switzerland as often as our lifestyles allow. He has many friends in Tipperary – and all over Ireland – from his time riding here and so he loves travelling to this country."

Irish Independent

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