Saturday 14th September – Doncaster – 3:35pm – 1m 6½f (1m 6f 115y) William Hill St Leger Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Class 1) (3yo)
Established in 1776, the St Leger is the oldest of the five British Classics and is open to three year old colts and fillies. The race was devised by Anthony St Leger who was an army officer and a politician who lived near Doncaster. The inaugural race was run over 2 miles at Cantley Common and was won by Allabaculia owned by the event’s organiser the second Marquess of Rockingham.
The title of the race was decided at a dinner party held in 1776 at the Red Lion in the Market Place in Doncaster. It was suggested that is should be called the Rockingham Stakes in honour of the host, but the Marquess suggested it should be named after Anthony St Leger.
The race was moved to its current home in 1778 and its distance was dropped to its current length in 1813. The Triple Crown which involves winning the 2,000 Guineas, The Derby and the St Leger has only been achieved on 15 occasions, with Nijinsky being the most recent colt to achieve the feat in 1970. Other notable Triple Crown Winners include Ormonde in 1886, Bahram in 1935 and Diamond Jubilee who was owned by the future King Edward VII in 1900.
Nine fillies have also achieved the feat by winning the 1,000 Guineas, The Oaks and the St Leger. Oh So Sharp was the last filly to do so in 1985. Due to changes in breeding trends the feat is unlikely to be achieved again, although Camelot came very close. After winning the 2,000 Guineas and The Derby he was only beaten by Encke in the 2012 renewal, finishing second by ¾ length.
The betting as a guide to finding the winner is not particularly reliable. The last 12 renewals have been won by the favourite on just three occasions and by including horses in the top three in the betting, the total only rises to five. The other seven winners during the period have won at starting prices of between 8/1 and 25/1.
Look for horses which finished in the first three on their previous race as 32 of the last 36 winners ticked this box. Nine of the last 12 winners also ran in the last 65 days prior to the race.
Other factors to consider when looking at current season form included horses who have run three times (all of the last 12 winners), while 11 winners won at least once before contesting the St Leger.
The Great Voltigeur Stakes, run at York, is also a good guide to reducing the field of possible winners with 10 of the last 23 winners finishing no worse than fourth in the York event.
The King Edward VII Stakes run at Royal Ascot can also provide clues as nine of the last 25 winners ran in the race.
Sixteen of the last 23 wins have gone to horses trained by Godolphin on six occasions, Aidan O’Brien six times and John Gosden with four. John Gosden last won the race in 2011, Godolphin in 2012, while Aidan O’Brien has won three of the last six renewals including the last two.
Self evidently horses need a decent amount of experience to do well in the race. All of the last 12 winners had run at least five times on the Flat and won at least twice. Horses also need to be conditioned to run over extended distances so look for horses who have experience over 1 mile 4 furlongs plus. Fourteen of the last 16 winners had raced over extended distances at least twice previously.
An Official Rating of at least 110 has been required to win the race nine times in the last 12 renewals, with the same number previously winning a Group race.
Sir Ron Priestley is an improving colt who has won five of his six starts this season. He won a Novice event at Ripon in April and handicap races at Haydock in June and July, before winning a Class 2 Handicap at Goodwood in July. He completed his hat-trick of wins in the Group 3 March Stakes over 1 mile 6 furlongs at Goodwood in August by 1¼ lengths showing a willing attitude to regain the lead over 1 furlong out, winning going away.
His trainer Mark Johnston is optimistic about his chances by saying: “Sir Ron Priestley is going to have to up his game considerably – but he’s done everything else we’ve asked of him, and so he’s got to have a shot at the St Leger.
“We are under no illusions about the fact he will need a personal best to win.
“He won a Group Three race on his last outing, while this is a Group One with Classic horses in there and a much taller order. But he stays the trip well, and it’s not impossible he could bridge the gap.”
He will race prominently or from the front and will go on improving. He acts in the forecast Good to Firm ground and at current odds of 8/1 represents good each way value.