St Leger History

The St Leger

The St. Leger Stakes is the oldest and original British Classic Race, a series of five flat races that are open to colts and/or fillies. Aside from the St. Leger Stakes, the other Classics are the Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks, One Thousand Guineas, and Two Thousand Guineas. The St. Leger is also the last leg of the Triple Crown for both three-year-old colts and fillies.

Held at Doncaster, England every September, the St. Leger Stakes was inaugurated in 1776 and held, first, at the two-mile track in Cantley Common and, starting in 1779, at the Doncaster Racecourse in Town Moor, which runs for one mile and six furlongs.

While this distance is considered shorter than the initial stagings of the event, the St. Leger is nonetheless considered a major test to the stamina of three-year-old thoroughbreds. To illustrate, the Belmont Stakes, which is the longest leg of the American Triple Crown, is only about one mile and four furlongs. That the St. Leger Stakes is longer by 2 furlongs makes it a difficult test.

Given the length of the St. Leger Stakes, racing analysis opinion that horse owners are opting to pass on this grueling race and instead enter their thoroughbreds in other major races held in Autumn, such as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders Cup. While the St. Leger is still more prestigious than these two events, the latter two are regarded as glamorous and attractive alternatives.

Analysts say this is why no horse since Nijinsky has achieved the Triple Crown -- winning the Two Thousand Guineas, Epsom Derby and St. Leger Stakes in the same year -- since 1970. Most winners of the Guineas and Epsom Derby decide to race elsewhere rather than at the St. Leger Stakes.

The St. Leger Stakes is said to be named after Lt. Col. Anthony St. Leger, a former governor of Sta. Lucia. In the first ever staging of the race, Col. St. Leger’s horse came in second to the winner, Rockingham.

Although it was first staged in 1776, it was not until 1778 that the race was given its name. Initially, one suggestion was to name the race as the Rockingham Stakes after its initial winner. However, the race organizer, the second Marques of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, insisted that the races should be named after his friend, Lt. Col. St. Leger, who first suggested the race. Hence, the race was known as the St. Leger Stakes.

In over 230 years, the St. Leger Stakes was cancelled just once, in 1939 , When World War II broke out. It resumed the following year but had to change venues annually. In 1940, the race was held at Thirsk, and then moved to Manchester in 1941, stayed in Newmarket for three years (1942 to 1944) before moving to York in 1945. From 1915 to 1918, the race was also held in Newmarket and was known briefly as the September Stakes. In 2006, the race was also held in York when the Doncaster racecourse was being renovated.