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Who was Lester Piggott and how can his life inspire our poker game?

September 15, 2022

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Have you heard of Lester Piggott? Replay’s Poker Operations Manager, Chasetheriver, reflects on the legendary jockey’s life.

The passing of British jockey Lester Piggott the week prior to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and just days before the annual running of The Derby at Epsom, gives me the opportunity to share some of his achievements and describe how a sporting legend and a winning poker player alike have to earn their glory.

Piggott’s first win in 1948, at the age of 12, was onboard a horse called The Chase. He went on to record 4,493 flat racing wins in Britain. With 30 Classic wins, including nine Epsom Derby winners, over a career spanning 50 years.

Piggott was taller than most jockeys, and had a constant battle to make his weight. He was known for his ruthless will to win, dry wit, and unmistakable weather-beaten face. 

An indicator of his self assurance can be found in this quote:

“A good jockey doesn’t need orders, and a bad jockey couldn’t carry them out anyway: so it’s best not to give them any.”

This statement is reminiscent of the cognitive bias phenomenon, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. This research is often mentioned in studies about poker players’ assessment of their own abilities. Although Piggott’s take sounds a little presumptuous, the theory holds that the lesser competitors are unable to quantify their own abilities.  

Piggott stated that one of his most memorable rides was Queen Elizabeth’s Carrozza in the 1975 Oaks, also run at Epsom Downs in late May or early June each year.

From this Racing Post article about his life:

Sir Noel Murless believed Lester Piggott was never finer than when winning Epsom’s fillies’ Classic in the colours of the Queen on Carrozza, a filly who was small in stature but big in heart.

Piggott gave the royal runner what was already his trademark Epsom ride, which was to sit fifth or sixth around Tattenham Corner before picking off the leaders and riding a finish.

Carrozza was sent into the lead a quarter-mile from home, but with the Queen and her mother watching, she then needed all of Piggott’s powerful assistance to hold off Silken Glider, who flashed home wide and late under Jimmy Eddery.

Piggott was known as “the housewives’ choice”. There are numerous stories of roving reporters asking local townsfolk their tip for a flutter on whatever big race was coming up and they often were told, “whatever that nice Mr Piggott is riding.”

Upon retirement, he said:

“Eating’s going to be a whole new ball game. I may even have to buy a new pair of trousers.”

Piggott was an example of what is required to achieve success at poker, too. While we, as recreational poker players, are unlikely to win premier events or be called upon to compete on behalf of top class coaches or trainers, Piggott’s dedication, sacrifice, and determination, coupled with a realistic world view and his dry wit, were key to opening the door to all he achieved.