Bookmakers Fitzdares celebrates the oldest Classic race on the British racing calendar, taking a look back through the history books at its notable winners
Dating back to 1776, the St Leger is the oldest Classic race on the British racing calendar. Bookmaker Fitzdares takes a look back at its most famous winners through history.
Take a look at Fitzdares’ take on Royal Ascot, from how it all began to the biggest stars (both human and equine) who have graced its stage.
SPORTING WAGER: THE ST LEGER
The St Leger, commonly referred to as simply ‘The Leger’, is the oldest Classic race on the British racing calendar, dating back to 1776. The race also serves as the final instalment of the five British Classics for three-year-old thoroughbreds and is undoubtedly the feature clash of Doncaster’s annual St Leger meeting in mid-September.
The St Leger is a race steeped in history, although its inaugural running was contested under a different name. Anthony St Leger and Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, joined forces to create the clash known as ‘A sweepstake of 25 Guineas’ – a nod to the winning first prize.
Following a lavish dinner party in 1777, the name was amended to the ‘Rockingham Stakes’, in honour of the man who contributed to its establishment. However, it changed its name again a year later after the Marquess modestly insisted it be named after his companion, Colonel Anthony St Leger.
Whilst in the first four Classics colts and fillies race only against their own sex, the St Leger allows the three-year-olds of either sex to compete against each other, though the fillies are in receipt of a 3lb weight allowance.
Originally run over a distance of two miles, since 1813 the St Leger has been contested over one mile and six furlongs of Doncaster’s fabled Town Moor Downs. The emphasis is placed on stamina as opposed to the more speed-stricken test of the Guineas and the middle-distance assignment of the Derby or the Oaks.
Winning the St Leger is the final leg of the infamous Triple Crown, whereby a colt follows up wins in the 2000 Guineas and the Derby with a St Leger success, while for a filly the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks make up the first two legs of the crown.
The Triple Crown is considered by many the holy grail of thoroughbred racing and the versatility required for a horse to win at the top level over such a variety of distances makes it a rare achievement. Nijinksy, in 1970, was the last colt to complete the magnificent treble. He also held the title as the shortest-priced winning favourite since the turn of the 19th century, returning odds of 2/7. Meanwhile, Oh So Sharp, trained by the legendary Sir Henry Cecil, was the most recent filly to achieve the feat in 1985.
We had to wait 27 years before another horse had a genuine chance of achieving racing immortality. The Aidan O’Brien-trained Camelot had completed the 2000 Guineas-Derby double earlier in the season, before being sent off the 2/5 favourite for the St Leger. However, his bid for glory was thwarted by the unheralded 25/1 chance Encke, when going down by just less than a length in 2012.
Bill Scott won the race on nine occasions throughout the 1800s, making him the most successful jockey in St Leger history. Scott’s brother, John, meanwhile, was one of the leading trainers of the 19th century. With an astonishing 16 wins, he is the most successful trainer of this race.
Of current jockeys, Frankie Dettori leads the field with six, most recently striking St Leger gold in 2019 when Logician, son of the great Frankel, triumphed by 2½ lengths. And it will come as no surprise to learn that the master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O’Brien, is the leading current trainer of the St Leger with six wins. This includes a trio of successes in the past decade with the Coolmore stud operation, where he trains.
The 2015 renewal (pictured above) saw arguably the most dramatic St Leger moment in its history. Simple Verse, trained by Ralph Beckett, finished first. However, following interference in the latter stages of the contest, the filly was demoted to second place after a lengthy stewards’ enquiry. This marked the first time since 1789 that a horse had been disqualified from winning the race, promoting Bondi Beach to top spot. However, connections launched an appeal and after an agonising 11-day wait, Simple Verse was reinstated as the winner. A nightmare result for us here at Fitzdares, whereby we paid out mammoth sums on both the 8/1 Simple Verse, as well as 2/1 joint-favourite Bondi Beach on that fateful Saturday.
By Fitzdares, Racing Bookmaker of the Year (fitzdares.com)