The St. Leger Stakes is the oldest of Britain’s five Classics, and the last to be run each year. Contested annually since 1776, it now represents the final leg of the English Triple Crown, following the 2000 Guineas and the Derby, as well as the Fillies’ Triple Crown, following the 1000 Guineas and the Oaks. As with all the Classics, the St. Leger is open only to three-year-olds. Run at Doncaster, and the course is one mile, six furlongs, and 115 yards.
The event was conceptualized by Anthony St. Leger, an army Major-General, and member of parliament. A planning committee proposed to name it the Rockingham Stakes after the host, the Marquess of Rockingham, but the Marquess herself insisted it is named in honor of St. Leger. Originally a two-mile race, the distance was reduced to its current length in 1813, and the St. Leger Stakes has remained in more or less the same form for more than 200 years since.
Most Successful Horse
As the St. Leger Stakes is restricted to three-year-old horses, there are no repeat winners of the event. But there are still several notable, celebrated champions. The first true sensation at the St. Leger was, appropriately, named Champion. He had a genuinely dominant three-year-old season, winning The Derby in his racing debut, and becoming the first horse ever to win The Derby and the St. Leger in the same year. That feat would not be repeated until the Flying Dutchman’s double in 1849.
The first English Triple Crown winner was the legendary West Australian, who finished off the feat in 1853. West Australian is widely considered one of the greatest thoroughbreds of the 19th century. A decade later, Formosa finished off the first Fillies’ Triple Crown at the St. Leger. In addition to those three wins, she also ran a dead heat at the 2000 Guineas that same year.
Arguably the most successful horse to win at the St. Leger Stakes, though, was the magnificent filly Scepter. Foaled in 1899, she burst onto the scene in 1901 then followed with a truly incredible age-three season in 1902. Remarkably, her victory at the St. Leger was her fourth Classic victory of the year, making her the first and only horse to win four outright. She may have run the table, but she injured her hoof on the eve of The Derby. The four Classic victories were among her seven on the season, and 13 in her career.
Many legendary jockeys have plied their trade at the St. Leger Stakes over the years, but the most prolific was undoubtedly Bill Scott. Born in Chippenham near Newmarket in 1797, Bill won his first St. Leger title as a fresh-faced 23-year-old and never let up. Scott won 19 Classics in total, but it was Doncaster where he truly made his mark, taking home an incomparable nine wins at the St. Leger Stakes.
While Scott won four St. Legers in his youth, it was following his 40th birthday that he hit his stride. 1838 began a truly dominant stretch of riding, as he took home the title at Doncaster four years in a row. He won doubles in 1838 and 1841, coupling his St. Legers victories with wins at the Oaks each year. After a five year layoff, he won his ninth St. Legers Stakes title in 1846. This would be the last Classic win of Bill Scott’s esteemed career, as he would die in his home of natural causes just two years later at the age of 51.
Horse racing became a family affair at Doncaster in the mid 18th century. Bill Scott’s older brother John had pursued a career as a jockey as well, but he grew too large and transitioned to training. In 1828 the brothers paired up for their first Classic win together, with John training The Colonel and Bill riding him to victory. That would be the first of six St. Legers Stakes wins together for the duo, as they repeated the feat in 1829, 1838, 1839, 1840, and 1841.
While Bill Scott’s career slowed at this point, John’s did not. He won 10 more St. Legers with other jockeys, most notably Frank Butler, for an astonishing total of 16 wins at Doncaster over 35 years, a total that is unlikely ever to be matched, Among John Scott’s notable horses is West Australian, who Butler rode to the first-ever English Triple Crown in 1853,