Time stands still for a turf marvel
By ROBIN PARKE
THE leathery face creases into a smile much more often these days and the white hair lends a touch of distinction, but underneath it all there's the same determination to win that has spanned six decades in the saddle.
Lester Piggott. More words have been written about this one man than almost certainly any other in the history of world racing. Mind you, he has been around for a long time.
But Piggott is simply special. At 58 he's still pushing them round racecourses from Beverley to Bombay, Sandown to Singapore, Haydock to Hong Kong. And winning, naturally.
He rode his first winner in Hong Kong 21 years ago, a rather ordinary galloper called Western Scott who, if memory serves, was winning his first race.
Unlike his jockey, the gelding did not add significantly to his tally.
Happily, Piggott has returned many times since and today he attempts to win the Hong Kong Derby.
In the list of his many triumphs - not least his Epsom Derby nine-timer - it would seem a fairly modest prize. But he doesn't look at it that way.
You get the feeling that winning now is possibly even more significant than it was 20 years ago - but for a different reason.
Two decades ago the mischievous grin did not appear quite so much, the 'Old Stoneface' sobriquet was much more accurate.
Winning was more vital then because he was the world's best and you don't stay there without winning the big ones.
There has been nothing left to prove for a long, long time. He is secure in racing's annals of greatness, he is the inimitable Lester Piggott.
But winning does remain important because now it's not quite so easy. It's the young lions, the older lions - and Piggott.
But still he's there and, as he showed with an immaculate display on Jacko on Wednesday night, he's still totting up the winners.
Why does he still bother? The head tilts a little, he looks at you and says: ''Why not? I enjoy it. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing it.'' He has no immediate intention of retiring and, indeed, why should he? There is no shortage of rides here or anywhere. He is still the jockey the public love to see in England, Ireland and Europe. He commands massive respect in India and Singapore and Hong Kong has always welcomed him.
There are fond memories of the immortal Nijinsky who won the Triple Crown in 1970 and remains one of the turf's immortals. ''He was a champion, simply a great horse,'' he recalls.
But it's not the 1970 English Derby he is looking back to, but today's running of the Hong Kong equivalent.
Trainer Ivan Allan pays Piggott a great compliment for his winning ride on Sterling Town in the Classic Trial.
''Look at the video, in the last stride he smacks his fist between its ears and the head goes down and out and he wins. A touch of genius,'' says Allan.
Piggott could win today's Derby. He says: ''He has come on a lot from the last race and Ivan has him right. A bit of rain would help.'' And in a changing world, it's good to know that some things remain as they ever were. The predatory Piggott was renowned for getting on the best horses on the eve of a major race, regardless of whatever luckless jockey had been on them previously.
One telephone call he made recently was to one of the owners of River Verdon.
''I suppose you've got a rider for the big horse,'' queried Lester.
They did. But a nice try anyway.