Conducted each September, the St. Leger Stakes ranks as one of the world’s richest horse races. Scheduled fifth among the five Classics, this Group 1 flat race is open to three-year-old Thoroughbred colts and fillies, serving as the third and final leg of both the English Triple crown and the Fillies Triple crown.
The running takes place on the turf at South Yorkshire’s Doncaster Racecourse, one of the world’s oldest equestrian centres. Regular race meetings here date back to the 16th century, and a formal racecourse was established in 1614.
In 1776, Army Colonel Anthony St. Leger founded a two-mile race for 3-year-old fillies and colts at Cantley Common in which five horses ran. He called it “A Sweepstake of 25 Guineas,” and the prize was won by an unnamed filly, later dubbed Allabaculia.
The next year, the event was relocated to Town Moor at Doncaster and became known as the St. Leger Stakes. It is today recognised as England’s oldest classic for Thoroughbreds. In 1800, a steed known as Champion ran to victory in both the Derby and the St. Leger—flat racing’s first double—which brought the Stakes to national attention. Thirteen years later, the length of the run was shortened to a mile, six furlongs and 193 yards, or 2,937 meters, its current length.
Among owners, Archibald Hamilton, the 9th Duke of Hamilton, set the record for the most winners at seven, beginning with Paragon in 1786 and finishing with William in 1814. The race’s top jockey was Bill Scott, who rode nine different horses to victory between 1821 and 1846. And Scott’s brother John still heads the list as St. Leger’s most successful trainer, with 16 wins in 1827~1862.
In 1853, a horse called West Australian took the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger Stakes to complete the first-ever Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. It is a feat not often attempted, much less accomplished, owing to the considerable length of the run. Only fifteen horses have succeeded, the most recent being Nijinsky in 1970. The latest winner of the Fillies Triple Crown here was Oh So Sharp back in 1985.
During the First World War, the Doncaster Racecourse was requisitioned for military purposes. Substitute races had to be run at Newmarket from 1915 to 1918—the so-called “September Stakes.” Armed conflict again interrupted the St. Leger in 1939, causing its cancellation. For the duration of the Second World War, the classic became a gypsy, of sorts, held in Thirsk, Manchester, Newmarket, and York over the course of 1940~1945.
Once racing returned to Doncaster, the St. Leger Stakes once again took its place as the premier sporting occasion of the autumn calendar. It is feted with four days of celebrations and racing called the St. Leger Festival. The race’s format has also been adopted for national stakes in other countries, notably the Prix Royal-Oak in France, the Irish St. Leger, the Deutsches St. Leger, and the St. Leger Italiano.
Ante post betting begins long before the race’s entrants are know, with race books offering futures on top 2-year-olds expected to run the following year. Because the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas are relatively short races, covering just one mile, they are not valued much as predictors for the outcome of St. Leger’s, but the Epson Derby at just over one mile and four furlongs is very closely watched by handicappers looking for strong distance runners.
Many online bookmakers, including ladbrokes, the official sponsor of the St. Leger Stakes, offer free bets of from £25 to £100 on the race. Promotions like these are usually available only to new online customers and require staking an amount equal to the free bet. Forms and tips for the St. Leger are widely disseminated, and frequently changing odds can be found posted on the Internet.
The most common wagers made are straight bets—“win” to run 1st, “place” for 2nd, and “show” for 3rd. These markets can be accessed through traditional bookmakers as well as at online race books. More exotic wagers include the Exacta or Perfecta for 1st & 2nd in order, the Trifecta for predicting 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in order, and the Quinella for the first two runners in either order. These bets have much longer odds and minimums starting at as little as 10p.