Who will Win The St Ledger?The World’s Oldest Classic Race

This week the historic St Ledger meeting on the Doncaster Town Moor is being staged. On all five days, spectators were to be allowed, the first time since March this year. On the first day, (Wednesday), 2500 spectators were allowed to watch the racing live provided they followed strict protocols. That was it, following an increase in Covid cases throughout the UK for the past few days, the local health authority told the racing fans that they could not attend the races for the rest of the week and so this ancient and famous meeting had to be held once again behind closed doors.

Oh So Sharp won the St Ledger in 1985 and was the last winner of British Triple Crown

The St Ledger race itself is the oldest classic in Britain and was first run in 1776, many years before either the Derby, Oaks, One and two Thousand Guineas. It is run over 1 mile 6 and half a furlongs and is for three year olds only, both colts and fillies, but not geldings. It is the final classic of the season and makes the third part of the British Triple Crown. The last horse to win was Sheikh Mohammed’s Oh So Sharp – trained by the famous Henry Cecil in 1985. It is rare these days, for trainers, even to try to win the triple crown.  Aidan O’Brien tried it with Camelot in 2012 following his win in the Guineas and the Derby, but came second. Earlier in the year, we believe it was on the cards that Love was to have given the triple crown a go but more recently a decision was made not to try. This we think was a great sadness for the sport. Love trained by Aidan O’Brien has shown us this year she is such a versatile horse and that she could well have gone to Doncaster and won the Ledger before going before to the Arc in Paris in a month’s time.

The first running of the race was for 25 Guinea Sweep Stakes and was the brainchild of local politician Anthony St Ledger. The following year, it was proposed that the race should be named after a local dignitary Lord Rockingham. However, after a drunken dinner party given by Lord Rockingham, he proposed that the race should be named after the man who initiated the race – Anthony St Ledger, and so it was. The race was originally run over 2 miles, but after West Australia won the first Triple Crown in 1813, the race was cut to its current length and has remained much the same ever since. The race has only ever not run in one year in all that time, in 1939 as the race coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War. During the First War, the race was run at Newmarket and apart from 1939, during the Second War, the race was held in various venues as the Town Moor at Doncaster was used for other things like ammunition dumps etc. Apart from the wars, the race has always been held at Doncaster save in 1986 when the racing was abandoned due to subsidence on the track and in 2006 when the racecourse was rebuilt.

The winning most jockey was Bill Scott who won it nine time between 1822 to1848. The most winning trainer was Bill’s brother John Scott a well known northern trainer who sent out sixteen winners of the race. In recent years, the race has rather been fought out between John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien with six wins for O’Brien and four to Gosden. The fastest winning time was made only last year with the Gosden trained Logician ridden by none other than Frankie Dettori, his sixth victory, the same number as Fred Archer in the late 1800s. The history of the race is surely not complete without mentioning Lester Piggott, who first won the race in 1960 riding St Paddy. Lester went on to win a further seven times, his last victory being on Luca Cumani train Commanche Run in 1984. Throughout the St Ledger’s history, the tradition has been that the winning jockey is given a special cap as the winner, which they keep and is renewed every year.

Pyledriver – The horse nobody wanted is current favourite for the race

As this article has been written before the running of the race, we can only speculate who may win. In recent years, the popularity of the race has been greatly reduced. Mainly because stallions who win over 1 ½ miles are not nearly so popular at stud, neither can they command such high stallion fees. This year the comment is still true, but this year’s renewal does have more quality then many in recent years and anyway,  it does not take away the pride of an owner, trainer and jockey to be associated with the oldest classic in the world. We can be sure however, that John Gosden will not win as he has none of the twelve runners forward from his yard. Aidan O’Brien could win it again as he has three entered in the race including Santiago, winner of the Irish Derby and Goodwood Cup this year – both Group 1 races. If Pyledriver was to win, and he has been the talking horse of the race for some time, it would give William Muir his first classic win. Pyle Driver was a horse who nobody wanted but really has already shown that you can live the dream with a cheap horse by winning the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot and more recent the Great Voltigeur at York. You cannot argue that Pyledriver is not up to the mark as he has already proved he can win middle distance races, but his pedigree, by Harbour Watch out of a Le Havre mare suggests that this distance may not be his forte!

Santiago – probably Aidan O’Brien’s top hope

Santiago by Authorized out of a Cape Cross mare suggests that the distance would be less of a problem? Others in the race include Galileo Chrome trained by Aidan’s son Joseph, a three time winner this year – his only three runs and Hukum by Sea the Stars out of a Kingmambo mare who won the Geoffrey Freer Stakes over 1 mile 5 furlongs at Newbury recently. Mark Johnston sends out Subjectivist, who shouldn’t really have any say,  but who knows with Mark Johnston trained horses, they win all over the place and not necessarily the favourite to do so either. If he did win, it would be his first St Ledger winner. English King was once talked of as the Derby winner after he trounced the field at the Lingfield Derby Trial, but since that race has been disappointing.

So, as we look forward to another renewal of the St Ledger, we can say that again it is not the best race in the world, but someone will end up happy as they scoop the £198,000 plus prize money!

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