LESTER was the jockey of the moment for pretty much all my lifetime.
I was a small boy when he rode his first big winners and he was the most talked-about jockey for a long time.
I can remember his Derby winners from St Paddy (1960) onwards. Sir Ivor (1968) is the one that stands out for me.
I was about to sit my Leaving Cert exams and a group of us took time off our studies to watch it on television. Sir Ivor was considered a doubtful stayer and it was remarkable to see the ride Lester gave it.
Sandy Barclay and Connaught looked home and hosed, but Lester waited and waited, then flew home and made it look easy in the end. That made a great impression on me as a 17-year-old.
The other ride that sticks in the memory was his win on Royal Academy in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile. That was unbelievable – you couldn’t have imagined it. To come out of retirement and win a big race like that. I didn’t think he could possibly be fit enough, it was amazing.
Lester rode a bit for me, mainly in that latter part of his career. A friend of mine sponsored Lester to ride in Tralee and the pressure was on to find him a winner. We put him on a maiden I thought would win easily but the horse struggled home – Lester had to make his mind up for him. It was a memorable occasion.
A whole generation of riders tried to copy his style and ride short but none of them could. They should have copied someone like Joe Mercer instead of Lester, who was a one-off.
He was an amazing man and there was a touch of mystery about him. He didn’t say much and kept a poker face. That was part of his appeal.
He loved riding winners and, in Vincent O’Brien, he had access to the best horses in the biggest races. They had a great association and the punters loved him.