Lester Piggott’s fall guy Darrel McHargue ‘surprised’ at US Hall of Fame induction

Horse Racing Darrel McHargue Hall of Fame
Darrel McHargue: a highly respected official since end of his riding career.
Photo: Michael Marten/CHRB

By Nicholas Godfrey

USA: Record-breaking former jockey Darrel McHargue, best known in Europe for being jocked off Commanche Run by Lester Piggott, has expressed surprise after earning the ultimate accolade at home in being inducted to the Hall of Fame.

“Being named to the Hall of Fame came as a complete surprise to me … a shock, really,” said McHargue, 65, who is now chief steward at the Californian Horse Racing Board (CHRB). 

“I’ve been blessed to have two careers spanning nearly 50 years in a sport that I love. I was born under a lucky star.”

Having made his debut aged 17 in 1972, Californian-based McHargue enjoyed his best season in the States in 1978 when he won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. In the process, he set a single-season earnings record of $6,188,353.

He won 37 stakes that year and finished second nationally with 375 wins; his career-best tally came with 405 victories in 1974.

Before his retirement in 1988 to become a racing official, McHargue won a total of 2,553 races in North America, among them a multitude of G1s headed by the 1975 Preakness on Master Derby. He also won six graded stakes on the ‘People’s Champion’, John Henry.

He was a noted turf rider at home before he went to Britain and Ireland for an extended spell in the mid-1980s, during which he was stable jockey for a time to Luca Cumani in Newmarket.

Victories in Europe in 1984 included the Irish St Leger at The Curragh on the Alec Stewart-trained Opale, and the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket on Old Country.

McHargue was the regular partner of Cumani-trained Commanche Run, the ante-post favourite for the 1984 St Leger, before he was notoriously replaced – at owner Ivan Allen’s insistence – by Lester Piggott for the Doncaster Classic.

Piggott was said to have agitated for the ride from his friend Allen; in the event, he rode a blinder to hold off the Steve Cauthen-partnered Baynoun in a whip-cracking finish. It was the jockey’s 28th British Classic, and the trainer’s first.

For the last 30 years, McHargue has been a steward/chief steward for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). He is due to be officially welcomed to the US Hall of Fame at Saratoga on August 7.

He was one of seven names joining the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2020, headed by trainer Mark Casse – best known in Europe for Royal Ascot heroine Tepin – and Wise Dan, the dual Horse of the Year who won back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Miles in 2012 and 2013.

That pair were elected in the annual ballot, while McHargue and the 19th Century racehorse Tom Bowling earn their place via the ‘Historical Review Committee’ route.

The other three inductees, designated ‘Pillars of the Turf’, are Sir Ivor’s breeder Alice Headley Chandler plus the late J. Keene Daingerfield and George Widener.

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