GUINEAS week in Newmarket is always an important one but, for myself as a bloodstock agent, perhaps this one stands out.
On Wednesday, whilst inspecting horses at the Breeze Up Sale, a three-year-old that I’d bought last year, The X O, raced through the field at Ascot to place second in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes at outstanding odds of 125/1.
This afternoon [Saturday], Manaccan, another that I bought at this same sale the year before, looks set to go off one of the market leaders for the Group 3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket.
Trained, like The X O, by John Ryan, Manaccan has won five times since joining present connections and he’ll have the services of Frankie Dettori.
Hopefully the son of Exceed And Excel can justify the high opinion we have of him by delivering yet another group race win for Frankie, a great man who was a close friend of my father, Lester.
From an early age, I was very aware of just how influential and important my father was within the racing industry. To those with even just a passing interest in horse racing, the name Lester Piggott would have been quite familiar. My two older half-sisters had forged very successful careers within the sport, so I was always conscious of the family’s standing in racing.
My mother had worked as a bloodstock assistant in Newmarket for a number of years, so I had the genes from both sides. By the age of 12, I was riding out for trainer Rae Guest, whilst training at the British Racing School at weekends. In my early teens, I used to come over to Ireland to spend the summers working with Tommy Stack. Our families have always been close and I enjoyed those months riding out in Golden. Throughout my teens, I combined the riding with some sales work at Tattersalls. The bloodstock side had always fascinated me through an interest in pedigrees and breeding.
As a result of this, on the last day of my school exams, I accepted an offer to prepare yearlings at Coolmore and headed to immediately start work in Kilsheelan. My first ever home away from home was actually a converted stable that once housed the great Danehill Dancer!
I spent a year prepping yearlings before gratefully receiving the opportunity to ride out for Aidan O’Brien. To be honest, I was spoilt. At the time I was fortunate enough to work with future stars such as Camelot, Leading Light, Australia and George Vancouver. Aidan was brilliant to work for, as not only did he give me those opportunities, he also allowed me ride out for Tommy Stack one day a week.
I rode on the track in Ireland during 2013, getting a handful of rides for Tommy. It was a fantastic experience, one that I thoroughly enjoyed at the time. I returned to the UK, where I rode for my half-sister Maureen and her husband, trainer William Haggas. I continued on to work for Charlie Appleby in Dubai, before moving to Gai Waterhouse in Australia. Throughout those years of experiencing varied training and racing aspects on a global scale, I always kept an interested eye on the bloodstock side of our industry.
Following an injury riding on the track in Australia, I decided to fast-track my ambition of becoming a bloodstock agent. I emailed as many agents as I could think of, desperately wanting to learn the ropes. I was prepared to work for free, as long as I could continue to ride out in the mornings. Johnny McKeever responded and I ended up shadowing him during my recovery in Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland.
I travelled to America where, unbelievably, I was offered a job by James Delahooke, a man regarded as the most successful active agent in the world at the time. He had been responsible for discovering Dancing Brave, among a host of other world class racehorses and breeding stock.
My mornings were spent riding track work for trainer Wesley Ward; another legend in the racing game. I felt incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to work for James and learn from him for the best part of three years. During that time, I had started to build up my own client base and do some pinhooking.
I found that, apart from investing in the potential upside of foals and yearlings, most clients also wanted an interest in racehorses. Having forged close ties with trainers John Ryan in Newmarket and Nigel Tinkler in Yorkshire, I consistently bought horses for both yards. I try to ride out whenever time allows, as it affords me the opportunity to offer some feedback for clients. It is certainly a bit of a niche, as not too many bloodstock agents can provide that additional insight. Aside from this week’s runners, I also purchased Acklam Express, a €26,000 yearling who went on to finish third in last year’s King Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot for Nigel Tinkler.
Last month, my bloodstock business sponsored the inaugural running of the Lester Piggott Gladness Stakes at the Curragh. My father won the race on three occasions and also rode Gladness himself on the track.
It was a wonderful day out; an occasion that my family appreciated and enjoyed. Nick O’Toole displayed an incredible collection of Lester memorabilia, much of which I had never seen before.
Among the collection was his 1950 apprentice championship trophy, 1969 jockeys’ championship trophy and his trophy from the 1990 Breeders’ Cup win on Royal Academy.
Nick displayed a letter from Romola, wife of legendary ballet dancer, Nijinsky, which my father received after winning the 2000 Guineas in 1970. Having won the first British classic on a horse named after her husband, Romola congratulated Lester and said “all I ask is that you now go on and win the Derby.”
Nick also had my father’s first ever passport from 1954-’59. It was full of stamps from cover to cover, as you’d expect for such an extraordinary figure.
Lester won the Palace House Stakes twice and the Newmarket 2000 Guineas on five different occasions. It would be humbling if Manaccan could win the Palace House, the race which precedes this year’s classic, in so doing, allow me to add just a footnote to the storied history of British racing.
Jamie Piggott was in conversation with John O’Riordan