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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.) | 10 Sep 2021 |

The St Leger
In 1776, three years years before the first Oaks and four before the Derby, a sweepstakes race was run at Cantley Common in Doncaster over a distance of two miles and was won by the Marquess of Rockingham's unnamed filly who was later called Allabaculia. When time came for it to be run again, it was suggested that the race be called 'Rockingham Stakes' but the Marquess insisted that the honour should go to Maj-Gen. Anthony St. Leger who had been instrumental in bringing about the first running. A perfect predecessor to the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury tale that was to take place later at Epsom. (Irish-born Maj-Gen St. Leger, a soldier and a politician, died in April 1986 at a fairly young age of 55.)

After two years at Cantley Common, the race was shifted to Town Moor, a bit nearer the city centre. It has been run there since then except when wartime and administrative exigencies have forced it to be run at other places such as Newmarket, Manchester, York, Thirsk and Ayr while the 1939 edition could not be run at all. These days it is run over a distance of one mile six and a half furlongs on the last day -- Saturday -- of Doncaster's St. Leger Festival. The St. Leger, of course, is the last leg of the Triple Crown. Fashions and priorities have changed and the Triple Crown is much less sought after these days. Nijinsky was the last horse to win the Triple Crown in 1970 and the last filly to do so was Meld in 1955. There has been only one runner this century who was in line for a Triple Crown. That was Camelot in 2012. He started as a warm favourite but his bid was foiled by less than a length by Encke at the odds of 25/1.    

Doncaster St Leger Festival
Doncaster, which lies about forty miles due south of York, has been in existence since Roman times. Once a major mining town and also well known for its chocolates, it also has a long history of racing. The four day St. Leger meeting may not be as glamorous as those at Ascot, Goodwood and York but it does provide a fair amount of concentrated quality in the autumn. The three races reserved exclusively for fillies are the Park Hill Stakes, Gr.2 (for three year-olds and over, St. Leger distance), the May Hill Stakes, Gr.2  (over a mile for two year-olds) and the Sceptre Stakes, Gr.3  (seven furlongs, three year-old and over). Older horses are catered with the Doncaster Cup, Gr.2, a staying contest, as well as the Flying Childers Stakes, Gr.2 over a scurry. For the finale on Saturday, the card includes the St. Leger, Gr.1, the Champagne Stakes, Gr.2 (two year-old colts, seven furlongs) and Park Stakes, Gr.2 (three year-olds and over, seven furlongs). All ages and most distances are well covered. Cazoo is sponsoring the St. Leger for the first time this year and is also doing its bit to promote the Festival as a whole.  

The Track
Town Moor has an oval track of a little under two miles. Races up to a mile can be run on the straight course while a chute ensures that on the round course the milers have only one bend to negotiate. On the round course, the final run-in is just short of five furlongs. It is a wide, left handed track and while there are some ups and downs, they are gradual and not particularly significant. Though not far from the town centre, the track provides a sylvan backdrop to the running in the backstretch.

Trends - Last Twenty Years
A field of ten usually faces the Starter and seven favourites (35 %) have brought home the bacon. The percentage is on par with the overall strike rate of favourites but poorer when compared to other Classics. Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle runners have scored half a dozen times in the colours of various Coolmore partnerships and they head their respective tables. Frankie Dettori who has ridden four winners and has Ryan Moore and Andrea Atzeni, with two each, in his wake. A dozen winners had won their previous starts. Leading Light, when he won the race in 2013 was running after a gap of 84 days, having won the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot. On the other hand, last year, Galileo Chrome was running just 13 days after having won a Listed race at Navan. The Great Voltigeur Stakes, Gr.2 during the Ebor Festival is the most preferred lead-up with nine winners having readied themselves for the final Classic in that race.

Joseph O'Brien, Aidan O'Brien's son, holds a unique distinction. He was aboard Leading Light trained by his father and last year he himself  saddled Galileo Chrome. Coolmore's great stallion Sadler's Wells has left an indelible mark on this race. He has sired two winners and is the damsire of another two. His sons, Montjeu and Galileo, are responsible for another six between them, sharing spoils equally. Two sons of  Galileo -- Frankel and Australia --  also figure as sires of a St Leger winner.

The Race This Year  
Ten runners have been declared for the last Classic but some of them may have done so with a proviso about the going and in England one can expect an odd last minute absentee. When the final eighteen runners were known, Godolphin's Hurricane Lane (Frankel - Gale Force) headed the market and he has hardened into an odds–on fancy. A winner of the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes, Gr.2, he ran a sluggish race in the Cazoo Epsom Derby, Gr.1 where his stablemate Adayar (Frankel - Anna Salai) was the  surprise winner. That is the only time in his five career starts that he has failed to win and the loss of his both front shoes may have been a contributing  factor. Two wins since then -- a battling one in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, Gr.1 and an much easier one in the Grand Prix de Paris, Gr.1 -- have boosted his stock. The only Gr.1 winner in the race, he will be essaying the distance for the first time and runs after a longish gap of two months but the stable is in fine form. Charlie Appleby won the meeting's opener on Wednesday for Godolphin and added another on Thursday; both were ridden by William Buick who has five wins in two days at Doncaster. Hurricane Lane's sire Frankel already has Logician, a previous winner of this race, to his credit.

A distant second in the betting is the John Pearce Racing Gordon Stakes, Gr.3 winner Ottoman Emperor (Exceleration - Ibiza Empress[IRE] by Tertulian) who held off Ballydoyle's Sir Lucan.  A decision to run Ottoman Emperor next in the Leger without a run in between was made in the Goodwood paddock even before the colt had been hosed. Ottoman Emperor is an interesting specimen. His dam is in India as was Sun Shower[IRE], the dam of his sire Excelebration. The exploits of Excelebration -- so unfortunate to come up against Frankel -- prompted Coolmore to buy Sun Shower from Hazara Stud and take her back to Ireland. She produced just one winner after her return and that was Lancaster Bomber, a Gr.1 winner and now a stallion. The other oddity is that The Emperor has a DI of 5.67 which makes his Gordon Stakes, Gr.3 win over 2400 m. perplexing. Another example of how the DI can so often be wrong. He is trained by Johnny Murtagh who recently won the Ebor Handicap at Doncaster over almost the St Leger distance with Sonnyboyliston and so has a fair idea of what is required of his charge. Young Irish jockey Ben Coen will be astride and it will be his first ride at the Town Moor course. There are a few mares from Ottoman Emperor's family in India and their connections are sure to be rooting for him though this will be his first start at Gr.1 level.  

There would have been two Derby seconds in the field but Lone Eagle, runner-up at the Curragh, suffered a serious injury in the King George at Ascot and his future racing career is in doubt.  Mojo Star (Sea The Stars - Galley by Zamindar) split Adayar and Hurricane Lane at Epsom but ran off-the-board at Curragh and his subsequent win in a four horse maiden does not enhance his prospects. He could be vying for minor honours at best under Rossa Ryan.

This year Godolphin has upstaged its arch rival Coolmore in the races that matter -- the Derbies at Epsom and Curragh and the King George at Ascot. It also won Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes, Gr.2 at York -- the ideal trial for the St. Leger -- with Yibir. Yibir defeated three Ballydoyle runners in that race -- The Mediterranean, Sir Lucan and the favourite High Definition -- who are running on Saturday. Obviously, the Godolphin thinking is that Hurricane Lane alone can take care of the Ballydoyle quartet,  Aidan O'Brien having added Interpretation to his team.

The Mediterranean was a shade over a length adrift of Yibir in the Great Voltigeur  but in truth he was never winning that race. However, he could be the best of Ballydoyle runners and he comes off a decent run in the most favoured St. Leger trial. Especially,  as he finished ahead of his better fancied stablemates Sir Lucan (Camelot - Sparrow by Oasis Dream) and High Definition (Galileo- Palace).  He beat Sir Lucan  by a longer margin at York than Ottoman Emperor had done so at Goodwood and that does give him a squeak. High Definition was unbeaten at 2 but without a win in three starts this year and has been beaten twice by Hurricane Lane. He did start as the favourite for Great Voltigeur only to run off-the-board.  The other Aidan O'Brien runner Interpretation (Galileo - Daldiyna)  is unbeaten in three starts this year, albeit in much shallower waters. The blood is very much there but not quite the form. However, the Ballydoyle maxim appears to be "It's the horse on the day that matters" and one can quote a number of instances where Aidan O'Brien has produced a rabbit out of the hat. On Saturday, though, O'Brien is unlikely to be at Doncaster. There are big races at Leopardstown and Longchamp over the week-end, including crucial Arc trials, and the early indications are that the trainer and his main jockey Ryan Moore will remain in Ireland while Frankie Dettori does duty in France (Snowfall in the Prix Vermeille, Gr.1) and England (High Definition in the St Leger).

The only filly to win in the last twenty years is Simple Verse who finished a head ahead of Bondi Beach. She was relegated to second after a Stewards' Enquiry but reinstated on appeal. She was trained by Ralph Beckett who will be saddling Scope on Saturday. Roger Varian's Save A Forest, was the lone filly in the contest at the Acceptance stage but opted to run in the Hippo 3 Park Hill Fillies Stakes, Gr.2 on Thursday where she was unplaced.  Tom Marquand, who rode Galileo Chrome to victory last year. will be aboard Andrew Balding's Youth Spirit while Oisin Murphy is set to pilot Fernando Vichi, who was beaten last time out by Interpretation. Irish runners outnumber the home team 6-4.
The 1869 St Leger winner Pero Gomez ( br 1866 Beadsman - Salamanca by Student) came to India at an advanced age and stood briefly as a stallion at Kunigal Stud. Unfortunately, not many details of his stay in India are to be found.

Caligula (gr 1917 The Tetrarch - Snoot by Perigord), born in Ireland and trained by the twenty seven year old Harvey Leader, had won the King Edward VII Stakes.  "He seemed", as Encyclopaedia of British Flat Racing notes, "an unlikely runner, as his owner  Lord Wilton was in financial difficulties and a court order forbade his running his horses, which were to be sold; there was a reserve of 6,000 gns on Caligula and no buyer could be found. A few days before the race, Leader heard that a rich Hindu cotton-mill owner called Mr. Goculdas might be interested. A cable was sent to Bombay and Mr. Goculdas bought the horse, which duly won the St Leger at 100/6."

Mr. Goculdas's religious beliefs prevented him from going abroad but he was very keen to see his British Classic winner, the first owned by an Indian. Mohammed could not go to the mountain and so the mountain came to India ! Caligula was unfit to race but Mr. Goculdas wanted to see him run. His trainer managed to patch him up sufficiently to start in a 6 furlong race at Bombay. The owner's wish duly fulfilled, Caligula went back to England. Mr. Goculdas himself was soon to plunge into financial travails and all his horses in India and England were taken over by Sir Victor Sassoon. At stud, Caligula proved virtually sterile but Sir Sassoon did manage to get a foal out of him. That foal, Star of Italy, later came to India and won several good races for Sir Sassoon including three King-Emperor's Cups, two Viceroys Cups and two Eclipse Stakes of India.

The only Indian to have won the Epsom Derby is the Maharaja of Rajpipla who did so with Windsor Lad in 1934. The owner would surely have added the St Leger to his triumphs but he, too, found himself in troubled finances and had to sell his Derby winner. Windsor Lad was an easy winner of the St. Leger for his new owner, the bookmaker  M.H. Benson.

Two other Indians who owned St Leger winners were the Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwar of Baroda (Sayajirao, 1947) and Mr. Raadha Sigtia (Sodium, 1966). Mr Sigtia, a shrewd race reader, was present at Doncaster when Nijinsky won his Triple Crown. As Nijinsky crossed the winning post, Mr. Sigtia is reported to have turned to a friend and said, "He won't win the Arc if he runs in Paris". Prophetic words, indeed.

The Aga Khan, who was born in Bombay, won the St Leger six times (Salmon Trout, Firdaussi, Bahram, Turkhan, Tehran and Tulyar) while Sir Victor Sassoon, who served as a Member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly and was a long time Chairman of the R.W.I.T.C., Ltd. won it once with St. Paddy in 1960. Both, however, were living abroad later in their lives and had, perhaps, cut their Indian umbilical cords.  

Saviour stood as a stallion at the Pratap Stud. He was a full-brother to the 1978 St. Leger winner Julio Mariner.