Piggott to cut short HK riding season
HONG Kong punters will see legendary rider Lester Piggott in action for the last time at Sha Tin on Saturday.
The 58-year-old living legend of world racing has cut short his stay and will ride in six races in Macau on Sunday at the Derby meeting there.
He will also make a dash from the Sha Tin meeting to ride two horses at Taipa in the seventh and eighth races on Saturday night.
Originally, Piggott was expected to ride at the Martell Grand National meeting at Happy Valley on April 9 but had only two possible rides on the Martell card.
Piggott, who has been coming to Hong Kong on riding business for more than 20 years, had his original one-month international licence extended until after the April 9 meeting.
He said at Sha Tin last night: ''I decided to take the rides in Macau and the one in the Derby because I have to go back to England earlier than I expected.
''I am going to ride in England over the Easter period. I would have stayed on in Hong Kong but I don't have many rides. They wanted me for the Martell race but my horse, Jacko, probably won't get in and if it does it would be on the minimum weight.
''I will ride in Macau at the weekend and then go back to England early next week.''.
The move to ride in Macau at the weekend would not have pleased the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club but director of racing, Philip Johnston, said yesterday: ''Lester has told us that he wants to cut short his stay in Hong Kong. He will ride in Macau on Sunday and then go home.
''He knew the position exactly and the decision was his. If you are here on a short international licence you don't leave to ride somewhere else during that time.
''But I don't really think that came into it. He just didn't have much to ride here. He has been finding it a bit difficult to get rides with Ivan [Allan] giving him one or two.
''I would have to say that Saturday would be the final meeting of his career in Hong Kong,'' added Johnston.
Piggott's abrupt departure will be bad news for sponsors Martell in both Hong Kong and Britain as two races from the Happy Valley meeting will be telecast live on the BBC programme Grandstand as part of the coverage of the Grand National which attracts more viewers than any other single sporting event.
It was hoped that Piggott, arguably still the biggest single name in British racing, would be riding in both televised races.
The decision to ride at Taipa on Derby Day will certainly boost interest in the Macau Jockey Club's premier meeting and Piggott will ride in six races - including the Classic.
He will partner Surplus for trainer Kenny Man in the 1,800-metre race.
which is the sixth event on the 10-race programme.
Piggott first rode in Hong Kong in 1973 and has been a frequent visitor ever since.
Before his original retirement, he actually had his last ride on a public racecourse on a horse trained by Arthur Ward at Sha Tin.