Everything you need to know about the St Leger

Features | 9th September 2021

The St Leger is one of the oldest and most prestigious races in Britain. Find out about its rich history, famous winners and great races.

The final Classic of the season will be up for grabs this weekend in the Cazoo St Leger. Not only is it the longest in terms of distance of the five Classic races but it is also the oldest.

The historic contest, run over 1m 6f, has had crowds flocking to Doncaster for 245 years. It has seen some great horses and some great races. Here’s everything you need to know about the Cazoo St Leger.

St Leger History

The race was the brainchild of Major‐General Anthony St Leger, an Irishman who had settled near Doncaster having married a Yorkshire woman. He had been MP for Grimsby two years before he came up with the idea of a race over two miles on Cantley Common.

The Classic was originally described only as a ‘Sweepstake of 25 Guineas’. Like the race itself, the first winner didn’t even have a name when she triumphed in 1776. Owned by the Marquess of Rockingham, who was to serve two terms as Prime Minister, she was later given the name Allabaculia.

At a dinner party thrown by the Marquess in the Red Lion pub in Doncaster’s Market Place, a pub that is still in existence, it was suggested the race should be named after the evening’s host. He declined the offer and, instead, proposed the race be named the St Leger.

It moved to its present site on Town Moor under its new St Leger title in 1778. The race first came to national prominence when the aptly‐named Champion became the first horse to complete the Derby‐St Leger double in 1800.

The distance was cut to 1m6f and it soon became one of the most prominent races in the calendar. To this day, the winning jockey is presented with a unique trophy – an elaborate tailor‐made cap.

Tom Marquand with the 2020 St Leger trophy and cap
Tom Marquand with the 2020 St Leger trophy and cap

Many other countries have introduced their own versions of the St Leger. These days there are St Legers in Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.

Triple Crown winners

The St Leger is the third leg of Flat racing’s Triple Crown. It is an extreme test of durability, versatility and, ultimately, pure ability.

The first leg is the 2000 Guineas run over a mile at Newmarket in May. The following month the Derby over 1m4f at Epsom forms the middle leg. Any horse that wins those two Classics gets the chance to complete the Triple Crown in the St Leger over 1m6f.

West Australian was the first in 1853. Gladiateur, Lord Lyon, Ormonde, Common, Isinglass, Galtee More and Flying Fox were other Triple Crown winners of the 19th century.

Another six followed before the outbreak of WWII but Nijinsky remains the only one since when he cleaned up the Classics for trainer Vincent O’Brien and jockey Lester Piggott in 1970.

Nijinsky and Lester Piggott on the day of the 1970 Triple Crown win
Nijinsky and Lester Piggott on the day of the 1970 Triple Crown win

Camelot looked to have a glorious chance of becoming the 16th Triple Crown winner in 2012 but he was beaten in controversial fashion when finishing runner‐up behind Encke.

The fillies’ version of the Triple Crown consists of the 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger. There have been nine fillies to win all three races including Sceptre (1902), Pretty Polly (1904) and Sun Chariot (1942).

The most recent was Oh So Sharp. She landed the Triple Crown for trainer Sir Henry Cecil and owner Sheikh Mohammed in 1985. She was ridden in all three races by Steve Cauthen, who had also won the American Triple Crown on Affirmed seven years earlier.

Famous winners and notable performances

As well as the 24 colts and fillies to have completed the Triple Crown in the St Leger, the final Classic of the season has also been won by the some of the most famous Flat horses.

Never Say Die will always be known for giving Lester Piggott his first Derby win in 1954 so his St Leger victory rarely gets mentioned but it certainly should be. With suspended Piggott replaced by Charlie Smirke, he cruised home by 12 lengths. The winning distance remains a record to this day.

Piggott didn’t have to wait long for the first of his eight St Legers when another of his Derby winners, St Paddy, was successful in 1960. In 1967 and 1968, Piggott was again in the winners’ enclosure when full‐brothers Ribocco and Robero, both trained by Fulke Johnson Houghton, won in successive years.

Dunfermline was another notable winner when landing the 1977 St Leger. It was the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee so it was rather apt that Her Majesty’s colours would be carried to Classic glory by the Dick Hern‐trained filly.

Minster Son’s win in 1988 was unusual as his breeder was also his jockey, Willie Carson, while the Scot’s old rival Pat Eddery rode his 4,000th winner in the St Leger when partnering Silver Patriarch to victory in 1997.

Logician smashed the track record when bolting up on unusually quick ground in 2019. It was Frankie Dettori’s sixth St Leger win and number five for trainer John Gosden.

Last year’s victory by Galileo Chrome was also a significant milestone. It made Joseph O’Brien the first person since Harry Wragg 52 years earlier to ride and train a St Leger winner. The St Leger continues to make headlines and this year’s race promises to be another cracker.