Willie Carson and Frankie Dettori have led the tributes to Lester Piggott, who died in Switzerland on Sunday morning at the age of 86.
Carson and Piggott held sway on the track in the 1970s and 80s when both jockeys were in their pomp and five-times champion Carson said he felt like a part of him had died with the most iconic racing figure of the 20th century.
“I feel as though I have lost part of my life in way, as Lester has been part of my life ever since I came into racing,” said an emotional Carson.
“I came to his in-laws as an apprentice and he was part of my life right from the word go, until the end. He was an iconic figure in the horse racing world. He is a legend.
“We had the luck of some ding-dongs on the track and he was a person who made us all better – because we had to be better to beat him. We had to up our game to compete with him, because he was so magical on top of a horse.”
Piggott was known for his single-mindedness and was not averse to phoning up trainers to get rides he thought he could win on, regardless of the incumbent jockey.
Carson added: “He was confident. He had the confidence, because he didn’t care about others, where normal people worry about doing the wrong thing.
“That man, for some reason, never showed any pressure. He never seemed to be under any pressure. He rode his horses with such great confidence.
“I wouldn’t call him a close friend, but as the years go on, the more endearing you are to one another – we had a racing life together and I wish I had been as good as him.”
Asked if there had been anyone better before or since Piggott, the Stirling-born winner of 17 British Classics added: “Maybe Gordon Richards and possibly you might put Frankie Dettori up there – those are the three iconic jockeys in the last 250 years.”
Carson added that he was hopeful that his great rival had begun to pull through after being hospitalised last week and hopes were high that he had recovered enough in time to go home over the next few days.
“That is the worst part,” said Carson. “That has made things worse – I was drafting a letter in my head for a card to say ‘welcome home’ for when he got out.
“It is so sad. Part of my life has gone – that is how I feel.”
Piggott was the ‘housewives’ favourite’, particularly when it came to riding in races such as the Derby, and Dettori has long since taken up the baton as the sport’s flag-bearer.
The Italian had a close relationship with Piggott through the pair’s association with the late bookmaker turned gambler and charity fund raiser Barney Curley.
Three-time champion Dettori said: “It is a shock when you hear news like that. He has been part of our lives forever really.
“Lester was a hero of mine and a good friend. The impact he has made in racing, on all of us, is second to none.
“I will always try to remember him for the good things and I offer my sincere condolences to his family and his many friends.
“He was a legend. We always tried to aspire to be like him and none of us can do it.
“I am not old enough to remember him riding when he was in his peak but, I’m talking as a professional jockey, we all grew up wanting to be like him.
“I kind of got close to him personally, because obviously we were both good friends with Barney (Curley), and Lester was a good friend to me. He will never be forgotten.”