Commanche Run: Lester Piggott's glory made it a race to remember
First published on Tuesday, September 6, 2011
It was everything a St Leger ought to be – history, attrition, controversy and wonder all wrapped up into the most relentless home stretch in the whole Flat racing game. It was Lester Piggott on Commanche Run holding off Steve Cauthen on Baynoun in the 1984 St Leger.
It was trainer Luca Cumani's first British Classic and Lester's 28th, which set a new record for such success. He was 48, Steve was half that age. Both Lester and Commanche Run were recovering from injured knees and the jockey only got the ride on the horse by a characteristic piece of personal manoeuvring which saw owner Ivan Allen insist on the replacement of stable jockey Darrell McHargue.
If that were not enough advance promotion, Commanche Run then upped the ante by walking into the paddock in something close to a nervous breakdown and in the race itself broke from the stalls far more freely than is advisable with 14 long Yorkshire furlongs stretching ahead. Piggott may have had him settled but the rhythm of the race forced him to commit with almost the whole of the pitiless Doncaster straight ahead of him and the young American champion elect hungry on his tail.
Piggott 'in extremis' was never a pretty sight and as Cauthen's rhythmic dynamic drive on Baynoun hunted him and Commanche Run down there was an element of desperation, the loop of the rein flapping wildly as his left hand stretched out with his horse's neck and the right hand slashed the whip's final demands. But compulsion on horseback has always been a psychological as well as a physical thing and as the post flashed up towards the duelling pair the Piggott determination was an almost tangible thing.
It was 30 long years since his first Classic on Never Say Die and, astonishingly unbeknownst to us, another ten years before he would finally call it a day with a spell of retirement in between. But as that revelatory smile spread out across the frozen tundra of his face, we knew that this was one day that would shine as bright as any other.
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