The world’s oldest Classic certainly has some history behind it and the St Leger has an enviable reputation as being one of the most exciting meetings for both the hardcore and casual racing fans alike.
Since the race was first run in 1776, the race has attracted millions to Doncaster Racecourse for its festival atmosphere, building to an incredible climax at Saturday’s flagship Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes, which has provided some of the most exciting moments in racing history.
1. Nijinsky completes the Triple Crown
In 1970 all eyes in the horse racing world were fixed firmly on Doncaster, as Canadian-bred, Irish-trained Nijinksy was made the 2/7 favourite to become the first Triple Crown winner in 35 years. Made up of the 2,000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket; the Epsom Derby and finally the St Leger Stakes, the final 1 mile and 6 furlongs of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing was won comfortably by Nijinsky and his jockey Lester Piggott – nobody has managed the honour since.
2. Masked Marvel runs the fastest St Leger ever
Showing that even after nearly 240 years anything can happen in the St Leger, Masked Marvel recorded the quickest time ever at the St Leger Stakes (at Doncaster). Taking a mere 3m:00.44secs, William Buick rode Masked Marvel over the line almost three seconds faster than the previous winner … also ridden by Buick. There has been a slightly quicker St Leger in recent years, as Frankie Dettori recorded 2:57secs back in 2006, but that edition of the race was run at York instead of Doncaster.
3. Dettori dominates
Dettori is arguably the most famous jockey of recent years, and the St Leger has been kinder to him than any other Classic. In addition to three 1,000 Guineas, two 2,000 Guineas, three Epsom Oaks and one Epsom Derby; Dettori has ridden five winners of the St Leger Stakes, winning in successive years twice, in 1995 on Classic Cliche and in 1996 on Shantou and 2005 on Scorpion and in 2006 on Sixties Icon. Nobody has crossed the finish line on as many occasions since Piggott.
4. Steve Donoghue wins his second Triple Crown
The hype surrounding the Triple Crown is unique to the St Leger – being as it is the final title required – with excitement building around a potential winner all through the summer. However, the hysteria reached heights never equaled in 1917, as jockey Steve Donoghue saddled up at the St Leger to win his second Triple Crown in three years.
Though the feat was achieved on two different horses with two different trainers – Charles Peck’s Pommern in 1915 and Alec Taylor Jr.’s Gay Crusader two years later – Donoghue is still the only jockey amongst 15 who has managed the Triple Crown twice.
5. A narrow defeat for Camelot
Spectators at last year’s St Leger witnessed one of the most exciting conclusions in the festival’s history, as Mickael Barzalona aboard Encke pipped Joseph O’Brien on Camelot to the post. Had O’Brien succeeded, the 32,000 strong crowd would have been treated to the first Triple Crown winner in 43 years, as O’Brien’s horse Camelot had already finished first in the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.
In the race, Camelot settled towards the rear of the field, but moved up to challenge on the inside straight. Making up ground over the last quarter-mile, the British-bred, Irish-trained racehorse failed to catch Encke by three quarters of a length. Even after all these years the Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes can still excite like no other race.
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