Sangster family remember halcyon days of Lester Piggott

Ben Sangster, son of the late owner-breeder Robert Sangster, who in association with John Magnier and Vincent O’Brien revolutionised the Irish bloodstock industry, remembers Lester Piggott fondly.

Piggott was contracted to pools magnate Sangster, whose colours of emerald green and royal blue won 125 Group One races, including the Derby (twice), and three 2000 Guineas and a 1000 Guineas.

In 1977, Piggott won the Derby, Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on The Minstrel for him.

The pair enjoyed unrivalled success, with Sangster’s breeding interests encompassing 30 studs, chief among them Coolmore, which he operated with Magnier and O’Brien, and which is now one of the world’s foremost breeding operations.

Ben Sangster was barely a teenager when his father’s operation hit full steam, with a string of brilliant performers emanating from Ballydoyle.

“I went racing with my father a lot when I was young, but it wasn’t until The Minstrel came along that dad moved into the big time,” he recalled.

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“There were some incredible horses in his legacy, such as The Minstrel, Alleged, Storm Bird, Golden Fleece, Caerleon – the list goes on.

“I was a young man when Lester was an absolute riding phenomenon, riding all those fabulous Ballydoyle horses in the late seventies and early eighties.

“I can’t really remember him winning the Derby on The Minstrel and beating Hot Grove, or Alleged’s two wins in the Arc (1977 and 1978), but I do remember him winning at the Breeders’ Cup with that wonderful ride on Royal Academy in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (1990), going round the outside and getting him up to win.

Rodrigo de Triano won the Champion Stakes for Chapple-Hyam, Piggott and Sangster in 1992
Rodrigo de Triano won the Champion Stakes for Chapple-Hyam, Piggott and Sangster in 1992 (John Stillwell/PA)

“I can certainly recall him coming here to Manton and having that wonderful association with Peter Chapple-Hyam and Rodrigo De Triano when he won the Guineas, the International and Champion Stakes (1992).

“I can remember him coming up and riding bits of work, not necessarily saying a lot, but you had to be able to read him. And it was fascinating.

“When you are a young man and he is your racing hero, and all of a sudden to be able to be associated and semi-working together was a very enjoyable thing.”

He added: “I don’t think there are many people out there who you can call legends, but he really was a legend, wasn’t he?

“What sports geniuses are there now that you can put in the same bracket?

“He was unbelievable. He never said much at all, but whatever he said, you took notice of.

“It was a privilege to have been up here and seen the maestro at work and watch a genius at work.

“Obviously, we all send our condolences to Lester’s family and friends and our thoughts are with them on this very sad day. ”

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