It’s the big one on Town Moor on the final day of the St Leger Festival as Doncaster racecourse plays host to its biggest race of the season. That’s right, it is time for the staying classic that is the historic St Leger.
Having been run for the first time in 1776, this is the oldest of the five Classics and was devised by Anthony St Leger, a local politician who owned the Park Hill estate to the south of Doncaster. This is the final Classic of the season and also the final leg of the Triple Crown and Fillies’ Triple Crown.
St Leger Stakes Past Winners
|2020||Galileo Chrome||4/1||Joseph Patrick O'Brien||Tom Marquand|
|2019||Logician||5/6||John Gosden||Frankie Dettori|
|2018||Kew Gardens||3/1||Aidan O’Brien||Ryan Moore|
|2017||Capri||3/1||Aidan O’Brien||Ryan Moore|
|2016||Harbour Law||22/1||Laura Mongan||George Baker|
|2015||Simple Verse||8/1||Ralph Beckett||Andrea Atzeni|
|2014||Kingston Hill||9/4||Roger Varian||Andrea Atzeni|
|2013||Leading Light||7/2||Aidan O'Brien||Joseph O'Brien|
|2012||Encke||25/1||Mahmood Al Zarooni||Mickael Barzalona|
|2011||Masked Marvel||15/2||John Gosden||William Buick|
About the St Leger Stakes
The five Classics are the jewels in the crown of the British flat racing season. The 1000 and 2000 Guineas get the Classic season underway at Newmarket in May, followed quickly by the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom in early June before the final of the five, the St Leger, which is held at Doncaster in early September.
At 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 132 yards the St Leger is comfortably the longest of the five Classics. It’s also open to colts and fillies and, as such, is the final leg in both the English Triple Crown and the Fillies’ Triple Crown. Camelot is the last horse to even attempt to complete either Triple Crown having won the first two legs in 2012 and the chances of any horse adding their name to lists that include Nijinsky and Oh So Sharp are increasingly slim.
THE OLDEST CLASSIC
The St Leger may be the final Classic of the season but it is the first in terms of history, the oldest of the lot having been introduced in 1776. Anthony St Leger is the man credited as the father of this prestigious event. As a general in the army and a local politician, St Leger was a very well known man in the Doncaster area and he used his clout to put together a race which quickly grew from a local event to one which had significant national importance.
Owners of the best flat racing horses soon began entering their charges in the St Leger and it was one of racing’s earliest stars, Champion, who really improved the fortunes of the race. He had built up a large following thanks to his win in the Derby at Epsom and his completing the double at Doncaster really helped to put the St Leger on the map.
Talking of the map, the St Leger has always been indelibly linked with Doncaster. It has been held at Town Moor for around 250 years even though a plethora of reasons have seen it held at various tracks over the years including, Ayr, Manchester, Newmarket, Thirsk and York.
Those infrequent changes aside, Doncaster is one of many constants of the history of the St Leger. The race itself has undergone surprisingly few changes since being won by a then unnamed filly in 1776. The distance was trimmed from an original 2 miles to 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 193 yards in 1813 which is almost exactly the same as the current trip and save for the exclusion of geldings in 1906, the St Leger has remained largely untouched since then.
SCOTT BROTHERS’ RECORDS TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME
The one element of the St Leger that always changes is the horses taking part. As with the other Classics, the race is open only to three-year-olds so repeat winners are only possible in the shape of jockeys, trainers and owners.
The record for the most successful jockey in the history of the St Leger is held by Bill Scott. His first win in the Doncaster Classic came on board Jack Spigot in 1821 and his ninth came courtesy of the 1846 winner, Sir Tatton Sykes. Interestingly, neither of those two was trained by his brother, John Scott, who trained an incredible 16 St Leger winners. The brothers did combine on six other occasions though including with The Colonel (1828), Rowton (1829) and Satirist (1841).
The records of the Scott brothers have stood the test of time and it is very difficult to imagine that any jockey or trainer will break them in the years to come. Several jockeys have had impressive levels of success in the St Leger including John Jackson (eight wins), Lester Piggott (eight wins), Fred Archer (six wins), Ben Smith (six wins) and Frankie Dettori (six wins) whilst Aidan O’Brien, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, John Porter and Matthew Dawson all have six wins as trainers as of 2019.
IMPROVING TYPES INCREASINGLY FEARED
The five Classics will always be spoken of as a collection of races but they’re each individual contests which demand different attributes of the winners. Those differences have only become more pronounced in recent years with trainers and owners treating the St Leger as an increasingly specialised race, explaining the lack of many horses even trying to win it after earlier Classic success.
Long distance flat racing is in a good place at the moment though, with several top quality races spread throughout the year. There is no doubt, however, that the best of the best run over shorter to middle distances. That has opened the race up considerably, with horses who failed in some of the season’s biggest races over shorter trips going on to claim success at Doncaster. Aidan O’Brien is just one of a number of big name, experienced trainers who have turned horses who looked short of the quality required to win at the Group 1 level into St Leger winners.
ST LEGER WINNER’S PREVIOUS FORM: 2010 TO 2019
|Year||Horse||Derby Position||Previous Group Victories|
|Group 1||Group 2||Group 3|
|2019||Logician||Did not run||✘||✔||✘|
|2016||Harbour law||Did not run||✘||✘||✘|
|2015||Simple Verse||Did not run||✘||✘||✔|
|2013||Leading Light||Did not run||✘||✘||✔✔|
|2012||Encke||Did not run||✘||✘||✘|
|2010||Arctic Cosmos||Did not run||✘||✘||✘|
2018 winner Kew Gardens is a prime example. Few would have picked him out as a St Leger winner after a mediocre performance in the Derby but he had already shown some impressive form having been stepped up in trip before contesting the St Leger. A number of horses have had success at Doncaster having been also-rans in the Derby but almost all of those had already proven their stamina ahead of the final Classic.
The stats show that horses who have already won a Group level race and/or a race over at least 1 mile 2 furlongs are the ones to support in the betting. In terms of specific races, the Great Voltigeur Stakes and the Gordon Stakes are ones to keep an eye on but any horse who takes big steps forward over longer trips will rightly be viewed as a danger. The only caveat to note is that 2013 winner Leading Light was a rarity in that he competed in a race which was longer than the St Leger.
Punters and bookies alike understand the changing nature of the St Leger. Five horses inside the top two of the betting won the race between 2013 and 2019, a run which followed an extended period without a winning favourite. What the future will hold remains to be seen, but we could see that trend of more fancied horses winning continue, thus delivering the bookies a little bit of pain to end the Classic campaign off!