A Review of the St. Ledger: The Latest Installation of a Racing Classic

September 18, 2017

- Grant Whittington

While there are a number of popular meetings that take place throughout the course of the flat racing season, there are some that stand out from the crowd.

Take the St. Ledger Stakes, for example, which is the oldest of Britain’s five classic races and has been a staple of the UK calendar since 1776. It is also the final of these races to be run each year, so it typically produces spectacles that live long in the memory of fans throughout the UK.

This years’ iteration was no exception, as one of the most competitive St. Ledger fields in years produced a high quality race and an exceptionally close finish. In this article, we will look back at this years’ meeting and the moments that made it memorable.

A Brief History of the St. Ledger

Not only is the St. Ledger Stakes the oldest flat racing Classic in the UK, but it is one that covers the longest distance (one mile, six furlongs and 115 yards). It takes place at the Doncaster Race course each September, and is a Group 1 gathering for three-year-old fillies and thoroughbred colts.

There are other fascinating elements to the St. Ledger Stakes, however, as it is also considered to be the final leg of the coveted English Triple Crown. This begins with the 2000 Guineas and continues with the Derby, before closing with the St. Ledger Stakes towards the end of the flat racing season. Despite this, the race has barely featured Triple Crown contenders in recent decades, although the 2000 Guineas and Derby winner Camelot did manage to secure a second place finish at Doncaster back in 2012.

This suggests that the race has become a little less prestigious in recent times, a point which some will say is borne out by the list of race records and accomplishments. After all, the most successful jockeys and trainers competed during the 19th century, with rider Bill Scott having secured a total of nine wins between 1821 and 1846. The trainer with the most wins at the St. Ledger Stakes is John Scott, who oversaw 16 successful horses in just 35 years between 1827 and 1862.

Interestingly, the most recent record to be broken was the fastest winning time, which was set in 2011 when Masked Marvel lived up to his moniker by romping in an exceptional time of 3m and 44 seconds.

This Years’ Race: One of the Most Keenly Contested in Years

This years’ race took place on Saturday 16th September, beneath the pale warmth of a mid-afternoon sun. The build-up to the meeting had been extremely prolonged and in-depth, with trainer Aiden O’Brien’s four-strong team of runners tipped to compete aggressively in what was widely expected to be a close and keenly contested race.

The favourite was Capri, who was ridden by Ryan Moore and priced at 3/1 heading into the race. He entered the race in good form having won over a similar length in Curragh back in July, while he was ideally suited to the good-to-soft conditions that the horses would have to compete in. The bookmakers expected him to be pushed closely by the Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean, however, who had never placed outside of the top three in any of his previous five races.

Other runners that stood out included Defoe, who was trained by Andrea Atzeni and ultimately ridden by Roger Varian. Priced at 6/1 and considered as one of the core front-runners, he entered the race in the best form of any contender having won four consecutive flat races since May. Stradivarius was also hotly-tipped at 9/2, having won well at Royal Ascot and Goodwood in his two previous outings and benefited from the expert guidance of John Gosden.

Capri was certainly competitive during the early stages, although his main contenders struggled to keep pace from the outset. Instead, it was Aiden O’Brien’s other runners that joined Capri in the first four places early on, with The Anvil setting a ferocious pace and the 12/1 shot Venice Beach trailing not far behind.

As expected, The Anvil quickly fell away after his explosive start, leaving Capri in first place and in an excellent position to build a relatively comfortable lead. It was at this point that the pre-race favourites began to come to the fore, with Gosden’s Stradivarius (who was ridden by James Doyle after Frankie Dettori chose to mount Coronet instead) joining Capri three furlongs from home. Crystal Ocean also moved into contention just behind the two leaders, while the 10/1 shot Rekindling managed to catch up with his rivals.

After battling at close quarters for more than a furlong, however, Carpi’s remorseless and consistent gallop enabled him to pull away from Stradivarius and build a healthy lead. Fortunately, Jim Crowley had paced Crystal Ocean well, and during the final quarter the thoroughbred began to quicken his pace noticeably. Within a furlong, he had reached Capri’s quarters and was pushing his rival into the final straight and as they raced for home. Suddenly, the race was delivering on its promise of a close finish, while Crystal Ocean had raised hopes of an unlikely.

Ultimately, Capri had too much in the tank, and regained his advantage with a little under half a furlong to race. He retained this lead until the end, earning O’Brien a fifth St. Ledger and wowing those who had been in attendance.

The Aftermath

Not only did O’Brien claim a quintet of St. Ledger’s at Doncaster, but he also claimed the mightily impressive £396,970 winners cheque. This was also O’Brien’s 18th Group One success of the season, keeping him well on course to beat Bobby Frankel’s all-time record of 25 in a single calendar year.

For the St. Ledger, this was yet another chapter in a quite unique and long-standing history, which began in earnest more than 300 years ago. This years’ race also paid a fitting tribute to the heritage of the event, as pedigree contenders battled it out to win on of the sport’s most prestigious prizes.

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