British horse racing is probably as vibrant it has ever been in terms of the calibre of racing and prize money that is on offer. The presence of key historic races such as the St Leger Stakes is one of the driving forces behind why the industry keeps progressing and thriving.
The St Leger is held at Doncaster Racecourse in South Yorkshire as part of the St Leger Festival in September each year. Such as the importance of the St Leger as the fifth and final Classic, the festival is targeted towards this race, but the fact that there are four days of quality racing during the meeting shows there is plenty of top racing action to take in.
St Leger Festival Major Races
Racing fans are in for a treat once again in September as we have yet another top notch four-day racing festival to get to stuck into. South Yorkshire is the venue this time around as Doncaster lays on it’s annual St Leger Festival. Undoubtedly the track’s major event of the year, expect packed stands on Town Moor as the meeting builds to its Saturday crescendo.
About the St Leger Festival
The St Leger is widely regarded as one of the more challenging races of its class, mainly because of its distance of 1m 6f. The race is actually the last Classic of the season, which includes the 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas, Epson Oaks and the Epsom Derby.
The British Classic Horse Races
|Race||Distance||Course||Month Run||2023 Prize Fund|
|2000 Guineas||1 Mile||Newmarket||May||£500,000|
|1000 Guineas||1 Mile||Newmarket||May||£500,000|
|The Oaks||1 Mile 4 Furlongs||Epsom||June||£548,450|
|The Derby||1 Mile 4 Furlongs||Epsom||June||£1,561,950|
|St Leger||1 Mile 6 Furlongs||Doncaster||September||£743,000|
The St Leger is also part of the Fillies Triple Crown, which includes the 2000 Guineas and The Derby. It’s often thought that any horse that wins any one of the Classics is widely regarded as the best in their class, but if they manage to win multiple or even all of them, they will be immortalised in horse racing history.
Whilst a lot of flat racing is about speed, the distance that St Leger is run over means that often the horses with the most staying power and stamina are the ones that do well here. Recent winner in 2017, Capri, is a prime example of this, with trainer Aiden O’Brien stating he’s one of the strongest horses he has trained in this class.
The prize money on offer was £743,00 in 2023, which makes it the second most lucrative race of the Classics, bettered only by that of the Epsom Derby.
The 1m 6f race conducts pretty much a full lap of the Doncaster track, which has been designed specifically to cater for races such as the St Leger. The horses will need to navigate two sweeping turns and the course is pretty flat throughout. A late move uphill towards the winning posts really tests the strength of the horse and only the fittest will be able to stay on the track.
Many people describe the course as fair, and we would tend to agree that the best horses on the day do tend to prevail. But, due to the fact that it’s held in Autumn within the ‘North’ of England, the weather can often be a bit hit and miss. However, due to the fact that it’s at the end of summer, the going is usually pretty good still.
The St Leger meeting at Doncaster covers four days in total, running from Thursday through to Sunday, having previously taken place between Wednesday and Saturday.
- Thursday – Ladies’ Day
- Friday – Doncaster Cup Day
- Saturday – St Leger Day
- Sunday – Legend’s Day (Previously held on Wednesday)
There is little doubt that the meeting is heavily weighted towards the St Leger itself, but there are a number of other races that are worth noting throughout the four days, with significant prize money available for each of them.
Headlined of course by the St Leger Stakes, the final Classic contest of the British flat racing season and the only Group 1 contest of the meeting, there’s plenty more to look forward to besides. This includes further Group races in the form of the Doncaster Cup, Park Hill Stakes, May Hill Stakes, Champagne Stakes and the Park Stakes. There’s also Listed events and enough competitive action to satisfy even the greediest of handicap fans.
Day One on Thursday – Ladies Day
The opening day on Town Moor is dedicated to the fairer sex, both on and off the track. For whilst those Donny Delight’s add a little sparkle to the stands, the action on the track is also largely dedicated to the fillies and mares, including in the two big Group races of the day.
It is the youngsters who line up in the first of these in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes held over a mile. Connections of the contenders this year will no doubt be hoping their runner can take this and follow a similar trajectory to 2017 winner, Laurens, who is now a multiple winner at the very top level, having also finished second in the 2018 running of the 1000 Guineas.
Following the May Hill Stakes next on the card is the Park Hill Stakes. Again, a fillies and mares only contest, this one is for the runners aged three and older and is held over the St Leger trip of 1m 6½f.
Elsewhere on the card, keep an eye out for anything Richard Fahey has entered for the Weatherbys £300,000 2-Y-O Stakes as the Yorkshire based handler is a trainer with few equals in this sphere.
Thursday’s Full Racecard for 2023
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:15||Meriel Tufnell Apprentice Handicap||Class 4 / 6f|
|13:50||Carrie Red Fillies’ Nursery Handicap||Class 2 / 6½f|
|14:25||Weatherbys Scientific 2-Y-O Stakes||Class 2 / 6½f|
|15:00||Betfred May Hill Stakes||Group 2 / 1m|
|15:35||Betfred Park Hill Fillies’ Stakes||Group 2 / 1m 6½f|
|16:10||Hippo Bambo Wipes Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 2f|
|16:45||Skopes Menswear Handicap||Class 3 / 1m 4f|
|17:20||Chique Boutique Nursery Handicap||Class 3 / 7f|
Day Two on Friday – Doncaster Cup Day
Dedicated to the big race of the day, the second day of the meeting is a bumper affair, with eight races on offer, including three Group class contests and a Listed event. Speed is the name of the game in the Flying Childers Stakes as a collection of the quickest juveniles in the sport go at it over 5f.
Always one of the most popular events of the week, it is the Doncaster Cup which is the third and final of the day’s Group contests. The Doncaster Cup has been running since 1766, making it one of the oldest horse races in Europe. It’s a 2 mile and 2 furlongs race, so it’s a really tough test for the horses and there’s £130,000 in prize money (in 2023) up for grabs. The race was originally called the Doncaster Gold Cup and was actually run some 10 years before the St Leger. It was promoted to Group 2 in 2003. Some of the more notable winners include Stradivarius, Estimate, Millenary and Double Trigger.
Friday’s Full Racecard for 2023
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:15||Cooper Marquees EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stakes||Class 2 / 7f|
|13:50||Betfred Flying Scotsman Stakes||Listed / 7f|
|14:25||Carlsberg Flying Childers Stakes||Group 2 / 5f|
|15:00||Betfred Doncaster Cup Stakes||Group 2 / 2m 2f|
|15:35||Betfred Mallard Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 6½f|
|16:10||British EBF Premier Fillies’ Handicap||Class 2 / 1m 4f|
|16:45||Doncaster Groundworks Handicap||Class 2 / 6½f|
|17:20||Hippo Masking Tape Nursery Handicap||Class 4 / 6f|
Day Three on Saturday – St Leger Day
Another three quality Group contests are on offer on the third and penultimate day. A day named in honour of the oldest and longest Classic contest of the British season. It is the St Leger which rightly takes centre stage, but the undercard isn’t too bad either.
If the leading contenders all stand their ground, the Group 2 Champagne Stakes is often not far off being the most anticipated contest of the week. Raced over 7f, some of the best two year old colts and geldings around will be taking part.
This is followed by the always popular betting heat that is the Portland handicap.
We then move on to the Group 2 Park Stakes. It is a fairly new addition to the festival, first starting in 1978. This is for the sprinters and takes advantage of the 7f straight that’s on offer at Doncaster. It is a race with a £120,000 prize pool (2023) and recent winners have included Aclaim, Breton Rock and Limato.
Next up the main event of the day, the truly historic St Leger Stakes. The ultimate test of the stamina of the Classic generation.
Saturday’s Full Racecard for 2023
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Betfred Champagne Stakes||Group 2 / 7f|
|14:25||Betfred Portland Handicap||Class 2 / 5½f|
|15:00||Betfred Park Stakes||Group 2 / 7f|
|15:35||Betfred St Leger Stakes||Group 1 / 1m 6½f|
|16:10||P J Towey Construction Handicap||Class 2 / 1m|
|16:45||British EBF 40th Anniversary Maiden||Class 2 / 1m|
|17:20||Hippo Pro 3 Sealant Handicap||Class 2 / 1m|
Day Four on Sunday – Community Funday
There is a relatively low key ending to the week as the meeting concludes with the St Leger Community Funday. The seven race card may only have one Group race, the Sceptre Stakes, but it certainly doesn’t lack when it comes to intrigue and attractive betting opportunities.
One of the most interesting races comes in at race five in the form of the Scarbrough Stakes. A Listed contest run over 5f, the conditions of this race are unusual in that it permits not only the three year olds, but also the two year olds to compete against their elders. The youngsters do receive a whopping 21 pounds from the older runners, but it can still prove a tall order for the relative babies of the game to come out on top. So tall an order that none have managed it to date.
The Sceptre Stakes may be the top race on the card in terms of class, but when it comes to interest and sheer novelty value, it may well be the following Leger Legends contest which garners the most attention. The 16 runners may be pretty standard competitors for a Class 5 affair, but the men and women in the saddle are far from the norm. Made up of retired jockeys from both the flat and National Hunt spheres, this is a chance to see our old favourites in competitive action once again.
Sunday’s Full Racecard for 2023
|Time||Race||Grade / Length|
|13:50||Hippo Carpet Protector Handicap||Class 5 / 1m 2f|
|14:25||Betfred City Of Doncaster Handicap||Class 2 / 7f|
|15:00||Leger Legends Classified Stakes||Class 5 / 1m|
|15:35||Japan Racing Association Sceptre Stakes||Group 3 / 7f|
|16:10||Betfred Scarbrough Stakes||Listed / 5f|
|16:45||I Love Julie Parkes Nursery Handicap||Class 4 / 1m|
|17:20||Michael Charnock Memorial Handicap||Class 5 / 5½f|
The Sunday St Leger of 2022
In 2022, racing across the UK was cancelled on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September. This was as a mark of respect following circumstances which became known on the evening of Thursday 8th September, following the completion of the second day of the festival.
As a result, the St Leger and eight other races where rescheduled for Sunday 11th September, making up a 9-race card at Doncaster. This rescheduled card is shown below.
Full Racecard on Sunday 11th September 2022
|12:30||Coral Champagne Stakes||Saturday|
|13:35||Coral Flying Childers Stakes||Friday|
|14:10||Coral Portland Handicap||Saturday|
|14:45||Coral Doncaster Cup||Friday|
|15:20||Cazoo Park Stakes||Saturday|
|15:55||Cazoo St Leger Stakes||Saturday|
|16:30||P J Towey Construction Handicap||Saturday|
|17:05||Coral Mallard Handicap||Friday|
Due to the popularity and the prestige of the St Leger, you will often find that horses will either move up or down in trip just to take part. For example, a 2 miler will likely be considered for this race, as will horses that are more comfortable at the mile and a half distance. Given the fairness of the track that spoke about earlier, you will find horses are pretty comfortable when making the adjustment either way.
The leading jockey and trainer in the St Leger stakes itself both come from the early 19th century. Bill Scott has ridden more winners in the race than anyone else, with 9 wins to his name. Trainer John Scott, brother of Bill, has trained 16 winners in total. Four of the wins of Bill were trained by his brother, John. For more information on the St Leger Stakes, including recent winners and trends, click here.
Jockeys at the Meeting
At the St Leger Festival in recent years, William Buick has been by the far the most successful Jockey, with 21 wins between 2018 and 2022. He is followed by Frankie Dettori with 16 wins and Jim Crowley with 12 wins.
Trainers at the Meeting
In recent seasons, John and Thady Gosden have been the standout trainers with 13 winners in the five meetings between 2018 and 2022. Next is Andrew Balding with 10 wins and Charlie Appleby with 9 wins.
The St Leger was devised by a former army officer, Anthony St Leger. He lived near Doncaster and formed a group of races that included a sweepstake of 25 guineas for anyone that brought their horse along to race. The race actually started life as 2-miler, but has been reduced since, to the distance you see today (1m 6f).
The first race took place on Cantley Common in 1776 and was won by unknown horse, that was later named Allabaculia. Upon deciding the stipulations for the following years race on the night after the first one was completed, it was suggested by Anthony St Leger that the race be known as the Rockingham Stakes, after the Marquess of Rockingham who owned the land that the race was held on.
But, it was Rockingham who then refused to take credit for the race, and suggest the St Leger, which was agreed on. They also decided to move the race from the common to the Town Moor, which is the same ground that it’s run on today at Doncaster racecourse.
Since the war, the race has been held at a number of different racetracks, such as Newmarket, Ayr, Manchester, Thirsk and York. Since 1945, it has been at Doncaster, apart from a few running’s in Ayr (subsidence) and York (redevelopment).
John and Bill Scott
John was the older brother of the two and was a former jockey before moving into the world of training. John’s weight gain as he grew older meant that a jockey was no longer a viable option, so it was his brother Bill he took up that role, albeit four years his junior.
Their father was also a former jockey and retired trainer, meaning that racing was very much in the family. Based out of North Yorkshire, the pair went on to dominate the British horse racing scene. Between them they managed to rack up and incredible 61 Classic wins between 1820 and 1850, including 19 St Leger winners.
John & Bill Scott St Leger Wins
|1821||Jack Spigot||Isaac Blades||Bill Scott|
|1825||Menmon||Richard Shepherd||Bill Scott|
|1827||Matilda||John Scott||Jem Robinson|
|1828||The Colonel||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1829||Rowton||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1832||Margrave||John Scott||Jem Robinson|
|1834||Touchstone||John Scott||George Calloway|
|1838||Don John||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1839||Charles The Twelfth||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1840||Launcelot||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1841||Satirist||John Scott||Bill Scott|
|1845||The Baron||John Scott||Frank Butler|
|1846||Sir Tatton Sykes||William Oates||Bill Scott|
|1851||Newminster||John Scott||Sim Templeman|
|1853||West Australian||John Scott||Frank Butler|
|1856||Warlock||John Scott||Nat Flatman|
|1857||Imperieuse||John Scott||Nat Flatman|
|1859||Gamester||John Scott||Tom Aldcroft|
|1862||The Marquis||John Scott||Tom Chaloner|
The St Leger is part of the UK Triple Crown, alongside the 2000 Guineas and The Derby. Since the Triple Crown was first devised as an actual achievement in 1809, there have only ever been 15 horses that have managed to record the feat of winning all three of the races and take the title of the Triple Crown.
The latest to have done so is Njinsky in 1970. Since Njinsky’s incredible feat, only three other horses (Nashwan, Sea The Stars and Camelot) have been able to win the 2000 Guineas and The Derby to have a shot at the St Leger. All three ultimately fell short.