St Leger Festival
There are many racing highlights through the course the campaign, but when it comes to late season fare it is Doncaster’s St Leger meeting which really stands out from the crowd, featuring as it does the final classic of the British flat racing year.
It’s not all about the St Leger though. Spread over four days, the track squeezes in not only the obligatory Ladies Day, but also a Gentleman’s Day and even a Legends Day.
St Leger Festival – Main Races
Park Hill Stakes – Group 2– 1m6½f
Following what is a traditionally low key and relaxed opening day, day two’s “Ladies Day” sees the running of the first two Group class contests of the meeting, and fittingly both the May Hill Stakes and Park Hill Stakes are restricted to the fillies and mares. It is the second of these which is the higher profile of the two, with the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes effectively being the St. Leger for fillies aged three and older, a fact well illustrated by Simple Verse who followed up her 2015 St. Leger success with a win in this race.
Flying Childers Stakes – Group 2– 5f
The first of two Group class contests on day three sees the best of the precocious speedy juveniles go hammer and tongs over the tracks flying 5f course. Named after a locally bred runner from way back in the 18th century, the name of Green Desert is perhaps the most famous name on the roll of honour. Ridden by Lester Pigott – a five time winner of this race – and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, this colt stamped his speed not just all over his rivals in 1985, but also upon future generations through a successful stud career.
Doncaster Cup Stakes – Group 2 – 2m2f
The second of Day 3’s Group events acts as a perfect counterbalance to the first. Whereas the Flying Childers is all about youth and acceleration, the Doncaster Cup turns the focus upon toughness and staying power. The longest race of the week, this 2m2f affair has traditionally joined the Yorkshire Cup, Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup as one of the recognised championship level events for the very best stamina laden performers in training. Now over 250 years old, the names of legends such as Beeswing, Brown Jack, Le Moss and Double Trigger all feature on the list of previous winners.
Champagne Stakes – Group 2– 7f
The St Leger is undoubtedly the main course on the Saturday feast at Doncaster, but we do also have a fairly tasty appetizer in the shape of this event for the two year old colts and geldings. 7f is often a fair test of stamina for horses so young, and a win in this contest can often point the way towards big things to come. Grundy took this in 1974 prior to coming out on top in “the greatest race of all time” that was the 1975 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, as did 1992 2000 Guineas hero Rodrigo de Triano.
St Leger Stakes – Group 1 – 1m6½f
The meeting of course reaches its zenith on the closing Saturday with the running of the final classic of the British flat racing season. Whilst speed is the name of the game in the Guineas at Newmarket; and the Derby and Oaks are widely viewed as the most well rounded test of the thoroughbred; the St.Leger is all about stamina and the ability to really see out this trip. Open to three year old colts and fillies, the St.Leger serves as the final leg of the flat racing triple crown and is the oldest Classic of them all.
St Leger Festival – Betting Pointers
Almost two miles in circumference, with very few undulations and featuring long straights, Doncaster is one of the fairest tracks in the land. Hard luck stories are few and far between here as there is generally more than enough time for a jockey to get his mount organised. In terms of the type of horse you want to be on, look for those who like to grind it out and come with a sustained withering run. A turn of foot never hurts of course, but with Doncaster races often run at a good pace, those late race sprinters are often gasping for air by the time the run for the line begins in earnest.
When assessing the sprint contests – those races over 5f and 6f – look to side with a runner drawn high as there does appear to be a draw bias in evidence here. This may not necessarily be down to better ground being available on that side of the track, but more due to the advantage bestowed through grabbing the rail and keeping straight.
The final thing to note at Doncaster is that you ought to be very wary when considering backing a front runner. There may be tougher courses over which to make all the running, but not many. Being held up just off the pace is the place to be, ready to come with that late and determined run up the long 4f+ run in.
St Leger Festival – A Brief History
The origins of this meeting hark all the way back to 1776 when the very first edition of the race we now know as the St Leger Stakes took place. The contest was devised by – and named in honour of – one Anthony St Leger, a local army officer, politician and of course, horse racing fan.
First switched to the current Town Moor venue in 1778, the event was initially even more of a stamina test than it is today, the distance was reduced from 2m in 1813 and the conditions of the race have remained largely untouched ever since.
The aptly named, Champion, became the first horse to do the Derby-St Leger double in 1800, but we had to wait another 53 years for the first winner of the prestigious “Triple Crown”. A horse by the name of West Australian being the first to follow up wins in the 2000 Guineas and Derby with a win in Doncaster’s greatest race.
It may be some time before anyone gets near the leading jockeys and trainers records for the St Leger, as two men by the name of Scott sit head and shoulders above the rest.
Bill Scott rode nine winners of the race between the years of 1821 and 1846.
Trainer John Scott – half-brother to Bill – meanwhile did even better. Between 1827 and 1862 the man known as “The Wizard Of The North” cast a winning spell in this race on no fewer than 16 occasions.
The final classic may be the first race everyone thinks of when this meeting is mentioned, but it is not the oldest race of the week. That honour belongs to the Doncaster Cup which predates it by ten years.
The Champagne Stakes arrived in 1823, with Bill and John Scott teaming up to win the inaugural edition with a horse by the name of Swiss.
The Park Hill Stakes joined the party in 1839 and was another staying contest quickly mopped up by John Scott who entered the winners enclosure seven times.
With the addition of the Flying Childers Stakes in 1967 and the May Hill Stakes in 1976, the Group race programme for this excellent meeting was set, and it has provided consistent top-quality action year upon year.
One of the more recent innovations of the meeting has been the introduction of a “Legends Race” on the opening day. This sees many recently retired stars of the game return to the saddle to battle it out once more in a contest which is always hugely popular with racegoers.