(Published 8 August, 2018) – It is the world’s oldest Classic race, first run way, way back in 1776, the year the United States gained independence from Great Britain. The world is a very different place nowadays, but one thing that remains unchanged is the fact that only a high quality thoroughbred wins the St Leger, run at Doncaster over 1 mile 6 furlongs and 115 yards, the race that is the final leg of the British Triple Crown.
There’s a fascinating race in prospect this year with entries including the Irish Derby winner, the Oaks heroine, the Derby runner-up, Royal Ascot winners and other horses who have performed at a high level at distances ranging from a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-three-quarters. After going out of fashion to some extent in the first decade of this century, recent renewals have seen a revival of interest and prestige in the great race, last year’s race in which Capri beat Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius proving a vintage event.
Ace trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the St Leger five times since 2001, and John Gosden has sent out three winners in the last 11 years. Frankie Dettori has won the race four times (but not since 2006), while Andrea Atzeni and William Buick have both won the race twice in recent years. The most significant trial for the St Leger is often the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes run at York’s Ebor fixture some three weeks prior to the final Classic.
Many of the current ante-post principals for the Doncaster showcase event hold an entry in that race, including current favourite Kew Gardens, as well as other classy horses such as Dee Ex Bee, Delano Roosevelt, Latrobe, Loxley, Old Persian, Rostropovich, Southern France, Wells Farrh Go, and Young Rascal. Our St Leger ante-post advice comes before the York race in the hope that we can highlight the right horses and grab the best of the early value.
Can Kew Gardens Bloom on Town Moor?
Aidan O’Brien is currently responsible for 19 of the 48 St Leger entries, but his Kew Gardens is the only one quoted at single-figure odds. Indeed, the recent Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris winner is the top-priced 4/1 favourite with Betfair, with many other firms offering little more than 3/1 or 10/3. The progress made by this Galileo colt over the summer has been surprising as he looked something of a slow boat when beaten out of sight in the Derby having won over 10 furlongs as a juvenile at Newmarket.
The horse Kew Gardens beat in that listed Zetland Stakes last autumn was none other than Mark Johnston’s Dee Ex Bee, who went on to finish second in the Derby, and Kew Gardens showed that stamina was his strong suit when comfortably winning the Group 2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, slamming stable companion Southern France by over four lengths. His win at Longchamp last time, however, came as a pleasant surprise as he dropped back to 12 furlongs and stayed on powerfully to beat well regarded French colt Neufbosc, with Dee Ex Bee more than three lengths away in third.
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That represented a further step forward for this progressive horse, but he doesn’t look great value for the St Leger at the time of writing, although if he were to run away with the Great Voltigeur later this month he might well go off a 6/4 chance!
Dee Ex Bee (16/1 with 888sport) appeared to disappoint when comprehensively outpointed in finishing a distant second to Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last week, but it transpired that the Godolphin representative – who cannot run in the St Leger as he is a gelding – broke a long-standing track record that day and the run of the northern-based colt might not have been as bad as it first seemed. Having stayed 10 furlongs as a juvenile it seems reasonable to assume Dee Ex Bee will see out the extended mile-and-three-quarters at Doncaster, and he is respected on his fine second place in the Investec Derby, although he has become something of an in-and-out performer having flopped badly in the Irish Derby four weeks after Epsom.
Johnson also has an interesting second-string in the shape of the lightly raced Mildenberger (25/1 with LeoVegas), winner of the listed Feilden Stakes back in April at Newmarket before finishing runner-up to none other than Roaring Lion in the Group 2 Dante Stakes at York the following month. He hasn’t been seen since, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility he might have been saved for an autumn campaign.
Latrobe A Fascinating Contender
There are two Classic winners currently entered for the St Leger; Joseph O’Brien’s Irish Derby winner Latrobe, and his father Aidan’s Investec Oaks winner Forever Together.
Latrobe sprang a 14/1 shock when winning at the Curragh, getting up to head the game and consistent Rostropovich to score by half a length, once again advertising the talents of his young trainer who has made a meteoric start to his career after retiring as a jockey in his early 20’s. The Camelot colt was not stopping at the end of the stiff Curragh mile-and-a-half and there seems every chance he will stay the additional extended two furlongs. He appears to handle most ground, so if the hot summer finally breaks and the rains come he should be able to cope with whatever conditions await at Doncaster. At 8/1 with Betfred he looks a fair price.
Soft ground would certainly enhance the chance of Forever Together (12/1 with William Hill), who ran away with the Oaks on easy ground at Epsom, slamming last week’s Nassau Stakes heroine Wild Illusion by four-and-a-half lengths. She’s been beaten in her two subsequent starts, but certainly not disgraced, however the extra distance might stretch her to the limit and she looks to face a stiff task.
The aforementioned Rostropovich is probably the best yardstick to the relative chances of a number of St Leger contenders. He has clearly divided opinion among the layers, some making him as short as 10/1, while Bet365 offer a standout 25/1. He ran away with the listed Dee Stakes at Chester in May, then was predictably outpaced in the stop-start French Derby a few weeks later at the same mile-and-a-quarter trip.
Stepped up two furlongs, he ran a cracker when second in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot won by Old Persian, then failed by just half a length to beat Latrobe in the Irish Derby just a week later when surely not fully recovered from his Ascot exertions. He then went off too fast last time in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes won by Poet’s Word, in which he finished fifth. but looks good each-way St Leger value on the balance of his form.
Old Persian (20/1 with Paddy Power) was supplemented into the Irish Derby following his fine Ascot win but didn’t run his race and has been rested since. He remains of interest although there is a suspicion he might prove a one-hit wonder.
How Far Can Wells Farrh Go?
One horse who looks a real staying type is Tim Easterby’s WELLS FARRH GO (8/1 with MansionBet) who is reminiscent of his trainer’s 2002 St Leger winner, Bollin Eric. Unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, including the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York, he was outpaced in the Dante Stakes in May behind Roaring Lion, then stayed on into fifth in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot a month later. Stepped up to a mile-and-five furlongs at Newmarket last time out, the Farrh colt made all the running and comfortably accounted for the decent Loxley by two lengths in the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy, suggesting the St Leger trip should bring about further improvement. He has genuine place prospects, at least, and should go really well.
Time and again this this summer we’ve hoped to see John Gosden’s unbeaten filly Lah Ti Dar (14/1 with Betfair) whose two wins have both come over a mile-and-a-quarter at Newmarket. Last time out she ran away with the listed Pretty Polly Stakes, a success that catapulted ther to favourite for the Oaks but she didn’t take her chance. The Newmarket form hasn’t really been tested, but Lord Lloyd Webber’s homebred filly gave the impression she could be high-class. Her dam, Dar Re Mi, was very smart at up to a mile-and-a-half, and if her master trainer can fix the niggles that have held her back she could yet prove to be a major player at Doncaster despite her inexperience.
William Haggas’ Young Rascal (20/1 with Bet365) beat Dee Ex Bee in the Group 3 Chester Vase before finishing a respectable seventh in the Derby at Epsom. He hasn’t run since but he stays and has a touch of class so would not be without a chance, especially as he remains relatively unexposed. Delano Roosevelt (16/1 with 888sport), fourth in the Irish Derby, is another inetersting candidate from Ballydoyle but has a few pounds to find with a number of the market principals.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.