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A History of Excellence: The St. Leger Stakes Through the Ages

August 31, 2016

- Grant Whittington

While there are many horse racing events in the annual calendar, there are some that stand out above and beyond others. The primary example is the St. Leger Stakes, which has an incredible history and runs at the Doncaster Racecourse every September.

Ran over a distance of one mile, six furlongs and 132 yards, it remains a firm favourite among fans and jockeys alike while it also has the distinction of being one the oldest race meetings in the calendar. It is also only open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies, making it something of a breeding ground for young and exciting talent.

Then and Now: The St. Leger Stakes through the Ages

The event itself was the brainchild of Anthony St. Leger, who was an army officer and politician who lived near to Doncaster. Initially referred to as ‘A Sweepstake of 25 Guineas’, it’s original distances was two miles and it was not until much later that the course was shortened. The inaugural running was then held at Cantley Common on 24th September 1776, with the winning horse ironically belonging to the event’s organiser the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.

It was in 1777 that the name of the event changed to the St. Leger Stakes, and not until 1800 that the race itself came to prominence. It was then that a horse called Champion recorded the first ever Derby Day and St. Leger double, creating national headlines and promoting the race as one of the most prominent in the racing calendar. This is a trend that has continued to this day, as the event continues to inspire similar races and meetings around the world.

Records and Achievements: St. Leger brought to life

Now branded as the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival, this event remains the oldest of Britain’s five classics and has seen some incredible achievements in its time. Jockey Bill Scott loved the course, for example, winning nine times between 1821 and 1846. Similarly, trainer John Scott (who was Bill’s brother) secured a staggering 16 victories between 1827 and 1862, while the two often combined their skills to achieve success.

In terms of memorable races, 1954 saw Never Say Die achieve the largest ever St. Leger Stakes winning margin when it romped home by an incredible 12 lengths. 1822 was also a memorable year for punters, as the unfancied Theodore became one of the longest-odds winners in history at 200/1. Such heritage contributes heavily to the St. Leger reputation, while justifying its status as one of the UK’s most popular classics.

 

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