The St Leger Stakes is not only the World’s Oldest Classic, but it’s also the only Classic in Yorkshire… and that makes it pretty special.
The first running of St Leger was back in 1776 at Cantley Common, before the event, was moved to Doncaster in 1778, where it has called home ever since.
However; wartime disruption, resulting in St Leger being transferred to Newmarket in World War 1, and again in (1942-44), the event also resided in Thirsk (1940), Manchester (1941), and York (1945).
Most impactfully on 3 September when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that Great Britain was at war, St Leger was canceled. The outbreak of World War 2 made the St Leger the only British Classic to have missed a year since its inaugural running.
With the longest roll of honour in racing; let’s look back at some of the fierce rivalries and successes of this prestigious race.
The story starts with a bay mare owned by Lord Rockingham the events first organiser. None of the inaugural races 6 runners were formally named; until 1913 there was no requirement for three-year-old British racehorses to have official names. It was only in 1828 in a British Racing Publication that the winner was named‘ Allabaculia’, a name thought to derive from the 18th-century adventurer Ali Bay Kuli.
The St Leger Stakes is also the final leg of the English Triple Crown; which begins with the 2000 Guineas, and continues with the Epsom Derby. Therefore; one of St Leger’s most celebrated winners; is undoubtedly West Australia; who became the first horse to achieve the triple crown, galloping to glory in 1853, for trainer John Scott, who remains the races leading trainer, with a remarkable 16 victories.
Fast forward a few decades and in 1902 a filly named Sceptre was to enter the record books, winning not only St Leger; but both the 1902, 1000 and 2000 Guineas within 2 days of each other, and polishing it off with a victory in the Epsom Oaks, all in the same year. Sceptre’s became the only winner of four classics, a feat that still remains unchallenged.
In recent years the English Triple Crown has proved out of reach for many challengers. Several horses have won the first two legs of the series but found the St Leger a step too far. A story too true for odds on favourite Camelot; a scintillating champion in 2012; 2000 Guineas and Derby, but unable to claw back the lead of Godolphin’s Encke, settled second in St Leger.
The most recent success was that of Nijinsky in 1970, who provided jockey Lester Piggott with a seventh win in the St Leger Stakes. Nijinsky not only won the English Triple Crown but also celebrated victories in the Irish St Leger an event inspired by Yorkshire’s Classic.
Fast forward to today; and with a strong field of Irish entries, including recent Grand Prix de Paris winner Japan, can Aidan O’Brien build upon the success of Capri (2017), and Kew Gardens (2018) to make it a hat trick? Or will John Gosden who has four St Legers to his credit stand in his way, with the entries headed by Irish Oaks heroine Star Catcher?
One thing is for sure the 243rdrunning of Yorkshire’s Classic will be an experience to remember.