SATURDAY sees the running of Britain’s oldest classic of the Triple Crown races, the St Leger at Doncaster racecourse. First run in 1776, the race is 1-mile, 6 furlongs and 132 yards, or 2,937m, in essence, a staying race. Open to both colts and fillies, the St Leger is culmination of the series of British Triple Crown races, writes LISA BARRETT.
The St. Leger is the famous and longest of all the great British classic races, and was devised by Anthony St Leger, a British Army officer and politician who lived near the Doncaster track.
The inaugural running of the St Leger was held at Cantley Common (south Yorkshire) on 24 September 1776. Originally, and quaintly named “A Sweepstake of 25 Guineas”, the original distance was two miles or 3218.69m. The first winner was a filly, unnamed at the time, owned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, the flamboyant British Prime Minster from 1765 to 1766. Later named Allabculia, the St Leger appears to be her only notable race win, and unfortunately no further records exist as to her future racing or stud career.
In 1777 it was decided that the race should be given a new name, and at a dinner party that year the friends of the Marquess of Rockingham suggested it should be named the Rockingham Stakes in his honour. Graciously declining, the Marquess suggested that it should be named after his friend and race originator, Anthony St Leger, and so The St.Leger got its name.
The race captured the public’s imagination in 1800, when a horse called Champion registered the first Derby-St Leger double when he not only won the Epsom Derby on debut, but then followed it up with the St Leger later in the year. With five wins from nine starts, Champion was injured as a five year old, and sent to stud in Ireland by Colonel Lumm, where he enjoyed limited success as a stallion. In 1813, the length of the race was cut to 1 mile, 6 furlongs and 193 yards, and despite some minor alterations, the race distance has remained much the same ever since.
The St Leger has had several important winners over the years, none more so than Ormonde (1886), who was not only won the English Triple Crown series in 1886, but also won the St. James, Hardwicke and Champion Stakes – twice! Before retiring undefeated in his illustrious racing career, Ormonde was sent to the Duke Of Westminster’s Eaton Stud, where he sired 7 foals from 16 mares – an extremely modest record.
Sent to Argentina after health issues (he and his dam were both roarers), something the Duke wasn’t keen to replicate, he only sired a further 16 foals, among them Futurity Stakes winner Ormondale. One of his surviving foals from his English crop was the great Orme, a multiple Group One winner, who in turn sired Flying Fox who won the 1899 English Triple Crown, and who became a leading sire of American Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Citation, 1930 and 1948 American Triple Crown champions) being among his many successful progeny. Thankfully Ormonde’s line survives through Ajax, the broodmare sire of one of the greatest mares of the modern age, La Troienne;
Another of the prominent St Leger winners was Gainsborough (1918), not only a top class racehorse and breed shaping stallion, but a significant sire of top class horses including Hyperion, a St Leger winner himself in 1933, Sun Chariot (1942), the great British Fillies Triple Crown winner and Nijinsky (1970), winner of the British Triple Crown and later leading sire in Britain and Ireland and champion broodmare sire in North America.
The 2015 running was draped in controversy when the filly Simple Verse by Drakenstein-based Duke Of Marmalade, was thought to have won was disqualified, and the race awarded to Galileo colt, Bondi Beach. After an appeal and a hearing, the decision was reversed, and Simple Verse got justice.
Aidan O’Brien, Ireland’s champion trainer, is hoping that 2016 will bring him another St Leger scalp, having enjoyed four victories over the past decade with Milan in 2001, Brian Boru (2003), Scorpion (2005) and Leading Light (2013), ridden to victory by his son Joseph. The hot favourite for the 2016 renewal is Idaho (headline photo), son of Galileo, who is aiming to improve on his Group placings in the Epsom and Irish Derby, after his impressive win in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York.
O’Brien is quietly confident of his charge and said “It’s gone well with Idaho and everything has been smooth since York. He is a clean horse and he has come out the race great,” Idaho Beach will line up with his half-brothers Sword Fighter, the Group 2 and Coral Curragh Cup and Housesofparliament, a recent winner at Newmarket.
Although there are just 8 entries for the oldest British classic race, the quality of the field is impressive, Ventura Storm and Morgan’s Law are the best rated among the small field of runners.
Whoever wins, the race will no doubt be a tribute to the ingenuity and far sightedness of Anthony St Leger all those years ago, and will reflect the best of classic British racing.