The St Leger: Making legends, both human and equine, since 1776

We may be set for the lowest turn-out in six years, with three of the eight trained by one man, but that doesn’t mean the allure of the Ladbrokes St Leger need be diminished.

Aidan O’Brien’s triple-pronged attack on the final Classic of the season could see the Ballydoyle maestro claim the contest for a fifth time next Saturday.

While the Irish champion trainer will be looking ahead to the big race, it’s now time to look back at the history of the Doncaster showpiece.

The winner of the 1m6f contest can expect to pick up for a cheque of around £370k these days, but when the race was created over 230 years ago, it was far less exciting.

When Colonel Anthony St Leger created a race over 2m named “A Sweepstake of 25 Guineas” in 1776, he probably didn’t expect the race to have quite the impact on thoroughbred racing that it has.

The contest was held on Cantley Common, near Doncaster itself, and was won by a filly, though unnamed at the time, went on to be known as Allabaculia.

She went down as the first winner of what 12 months later became known as the St Leger Stakes.

Making up the final leg of the British Triple Crown, claiming the St Leger can elevate a horse to legendary status, with Nijinsky the most recent horse to achieve the feat a cool 45 years ago in 1970.

And it was obvious from the outset that such exploits were going to be tricky, with no horse claiming the Guineas, Derby and St Leger treble for 44 years after all three were in operation.

The horse that broke the duck was West Australian in 1853. While stamina doubts are commonplace with horses taking in the race these days, trainer John Scott had no such worries.

“He’ll stay a thundering deal too long for any of them. The faster they go the sooner it will be over”, he is quoted as saying.

He did indeed stay too long for any of them, returning to what The New Sporting Magazine described as “a perfect hurricane of cheers” by his supporters.

Just 14 other horses have taken the three aforementioned Classics since, with Camelot coming closest to adding to that tally when second in 2012.

While the vast majority of victories down the line have gone to the colts, fillies have lowered the colours of the opposite sex on numerous occasions.

Following the maiden winner in 1776, the likes of Oh So Sharp, User Friendly, Sun Princess and fillies Triple Crown winner Sun Chariot have all claimed the contest.


Oh So Sharp takes the race in 1985

Ralph Becket on Monday confirmed he would be supplementing his Simple Verse for the race as he bids to go one better than when he saddled Talent to finish second in the contest in 2013.

Should she topple the boys, she would be the first non-male winner of the contest in 22 years.

The race has become a somewhat specialist event in recent years, with a select number of trainers winning it on numerous occasions.

The aforementioned John Scott’s record of 16 St Leger wins is unlikely to ever be broken, but the likes of Saeed Bin Suroor, John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien have won it at least four times each.

In fact the past 20 renewals have been won by nine trainers, compared with 11 winning the Guineas and 12 winning the Derby in the same period it’s become the domain of those that can specifically target their horses for the race.

Aidan O'Brien's most recent Leger winner Leading Light in 2013

Aidan O’Brien’s most recent Leger winner Leading Light in 2013

The latter handler has an excellent chance of adding to his already blossoming haul on Town Moor, with Order of St George leading his trio of candidates as 9/4 joint favourite.

Should the Ballydoyle master take the race he would become only the third trainer to make it a quintet of wins in the contest in the past 50 years.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.