RIDING FOR A FALL
Last week Lester Piggott, 51, one of the most accomplished jockeys in horse racing history, was led away, handcuffed, to begin serving a three-year sentence in England's Norwich Prison. The harsh sentence came after Piggott pleaded guilty to 10 fraud charges stemming from his attempt to hide $5.1 million in income from British tax authorities. Three days later, Piggott's reputation was further clouded when the Jockey Club announced it was studying allegatoins that he had made bets while he was a rider—a violation of British racing rules.
Piggott's lawyer, John Mathew, explained his client's tax troubles by pointing out that although Piggott is a genius in the saddle, "away from horses, he's a man of limited intellectual capacity...which may have been lowered in recent years by a degree of brain damage resulting from head injuries caused by a substantial number of bad falls."
But there may be another explanation. In A Jockey's Life, a biography of Piggott by novelist and former jockey Dick Francis that was a best-seller last year in Britain, Francis devotes two chapters to describing Piggott's gruesome falls, but concludes that Piggott "hid his worst injuries better than most, [and] has no disabilities or lasting effects today." Elsewhere in the book, Francis discusses Piggott's reputation for being a Scrooge and ascribes it to a deprived childhood and his mother's admonitions to be wary of spongers. Noting that Piggott has a habit of letting friends pick up tabs for him, Francis writes, "Lester walks away from paying out of deep-seated subconscious mental habit. It doesn't seem mean [cheap] to him, but merely normal and prudent."