The auction of a saddle last used almost 65 years ago has provided a major boost towards the cost of The House That Jack Built, the new rehabilitation centre which the Injured Jockeys’ Fund is providing in Malton. The saddle raised 200 times the amount it cost the last time it came under the hammer in the early 1970s.
Then, someone called John Lothian, about whom I can find no information, bought the saddle for £100 and promptly stuck it away in his attic. This time, it went for £20,000. Of course, such an item is not your everyday saddle. It was the one the 12-year-old Lester Piggott was using when he rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock on 18 August 1948.
Just a matter of days before the auction, the highest bid on the saddle was a mere £12,500, offered by Betfred chairman Fred Done. In the end, the saddle went to rival bookmaking firm William Hill’s chief executive Ralph Topping, who was quick to promise a more visible profile for his new purchase. Topping said, “Opportunities to secure such an iconic item rarely present themselves, and to secure this saddle in tribute to two great men in Lord Oaksey and Lester Piggott was irresistible. Rest assured, we will not be letting the saddle gather dust in the William Hill boardroom. We will be making every effort to ensure that the racing and sporting public have a chance to see this piece of history.”
John Francome conducted the auction, and after it came to an end, he quipped to Piggott, “Good job you’ve got two more at home.” Probably more, in fact, although another was sold last year, again making considerably more for charity than had been the case first time round. In fact, both had gone through the sales in the early 1970s, and then it was the saddle Piggott used when winning the 1969 Jockeys’ Championship that raised more money.
Alongside the saddle was something even more unusual, a signed letter from Piggott himself, written after the first auction had taken place. On 30 October probably in 1970, Piggott had written:
Dear Mr Pownall, Please accept my sincere thanks for buying my saddle for £150 in aid of the Stable Lads Welfare Trust. I can assure you that the money will be put to good use for the welfare of stable lads and apprentices throughout the country. Yours sincerely, Lester Piggott.
The price may have gone up substantially in the last 40 years or so, but more than 60 years on, Piggott’s saddles are still benefiting jockeys.