The Doncaster Cup

Before the St Leger came The Doncaster Cup…

When we speak of the William Hill St Leger Festival, the status of the St Leger Stakes as the World’s Oldest Classic often dominates conversation. Established in 1776, it may well pre-date any other classic but there is an older race to be found on the card amongst the four-day St Leger Festival. Scheduled for the Friday, the Doncaster Cup pre-descends the St Leger Stakes by ten years with its inauguration taking place in 1766. Initially a mammoth four mile contest, the same distance as the Grand National, the race is now run over a distance of two miles and two furlongs. Still considered a race for high-stamina ‘stayers’, the Doncaster Cup makes up one leg of the Stayers’ Triple Crown, a three stage championship that includes the Ascot Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup. The Doncaster Cup is a Group 2 contest with a prize fund of £100,000 which has attracted some of the sport’s finest trainers, jockeys and horses since its inception more than 250 years ago. The first horse to really define the Doncaster Cup was the four-time winner Beeswing. Taking the race for the first time in 1837, the mare would return to the winner’s enclosure on three consecutive occasions after regaining her title in 1840. A huge crowd favourite of her time, Beeswing retired after her fourth win in 1842 and subsequently had several foals. She clearly passed along her love of the Town Moor turf to her offspring as amongst them was 1848 St Leger Stakes winner, Newminster.Doncaster Cup

Another racing legend with incredible success in the Doncaster Cup is none other than Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen has had an incredible five winners in the race throughout her years of involvement with the sport. Her first win came in 1956 thanks to Atlas and her luck in the race continued when Agreement scored back to back wins in 1958 and 1959. All three wins were the handiwork of the Royal trainer, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, but it was Ian Balding at the helm for the 1970 success of Magna Carta. The most recent Royal winner came in 2014 when Ryan Moore partnered Estimate to pass the winning post one and a quarter lengths ahead of Times Up, who had been victorious in the two previous years.

Despite having his winning streak ended by Estimate, Times Up still provided a fantastic story of human interest. He first won the race in 2012 for trainer John Dunlop who was set to retire shortly afterwards. A year later his son, Ed, had taken over his Newmarket yard and in almost cinematic fashion he managed to train Times Up to win a second Doncaster Cup. Another significant and supremely popular multiple winner was Double Trigger. The namesake of the Double Trigger bar here at the racecourse, the much-loved chestnut claimed his first Doncaster Cup win in 1995 and followed it up by scoring a repeat victory in 1996. He returned to make it three in a row in 1997 but could only finish a distant fourth as he lost his crown to Canon Can. Like all great comeback stories, Double Trigger returned for vengeance and was once again crowned the Doncaster Cup champion when winning the 1998 in what would be his last ever run. His trainer, Yorkshire-based Mark Johnston described him as ‘one of the best there has ever been’ and he is commemorated by the Racecourse with a bronze statue located near the Grandstand Entrance.

Sheikhzayedroad wins the 2016 Doncaster Cup

Unusually for a race of such a distance, The Doncaster Cup has recorded three separate dead heats. In 1901, 1953 and 2004 the judge could not separate the first and second placed horses, even with the help of a photo finish technology in 2004! As the William Hill St Leger approaches and speculation rises as to who will line up on Town Moor in September, we look forward to adding another name to our longest roll of honour.

St Leger Stakes – A history of heroes


1977 saw a Royal winner cross the St Leger winning line. Dunfermline was owned and bred by Queen Elizabeth 2nd and despite winning just three of her twelve starts, she clearly knew when and where to exert herself as both of her victories came in Classic races. After winning the Epsom Oaks she headed to Doncaster and defied her starting price of 10/1 to win the last classic of the season. These efforts saw her rated as the best three year old filly in Europe at the time.

1985 crowned another exceptional filly, this time it was the Henry Cecil trained Oh So Sharp. Owned and bred by Sheikh Mohammed, Oh So Sharp’s career saw her win seven of her nine runs. In an outstanding three year old season she won the Nell Gwynne Stakes, The 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks before cementing her status by winning the St Leger here at Doncaster. She was unquestionably the outstanding three year old filly of her time and as a broodmare she produced another St Leger winner in the way of Shantou in 1996.

1987 saw Henry Cecil take another St Leger title, this time with a colt named Reference Point. After victory in the Dante Stakes, The Epsom Derby and the King George, Reference Point arrived at Doncaster a clear favourite for the season’s final Classic. He won easily, earning himself the accolade of ‘British Horse of the Year 1987’.Silver Pat 1997

A notable St Leger winner who was famously denied Derby success was Silver Patriarch. A popular grey colt, he was beaten by just a short head in the 1997 Epsom Derby after a tight photo-finish in which he looked to many like the winner. He came to Doncaster to avenge himself and he did, a popular victory amongst his supporters. It was more than ten years later that the namesake of one of our Doncaster Racecourse restaurants, Conduit, came to the fore. Conduit’s career had a fairly inauspicious start, rated a humble 79 after his first season, the chestnut colt’s star only began to rise when he turned three. Improving his two year old rating by a huge 46 pounds, Conduit won the 2008 St Leger by three lengths before scoring two Breeder’s Cup victories in addition to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes of 2009.

As with all famous races, some horses gain more fame for losing than they would for having won. Such is the case for 2012 runner-up Camelot. After the bay colt won both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, Camelot’s owners decided to target the St Leger in a bid to become the first horse since Nijinsky to win the English Triple Crown. After much frenzied press coverage, Camelot was sent off as 2/5 favourite but could only finish second by three-quarters of a length to Encke. Since Camelot’s failed bid to land the Triple Crown, no other contender has come forward.

One of the most dramatic and controversial St Leger victories has to be that of 2015 heroine Simple Verse. After finding herself trapped on the inside rail entering the last quarter of a mile, Simple Verse collided with the favourite, Bondi Beach. Despite crossing the line marginally ahead of her rival, a steward’s enquiry decided to reverse the placings and named Bondi Beach the winner. Simple Verse’s owners pursued an appeal and challenged the decision with the sport’s governing body, the BHA. After a lengthy hearing, the ruling was reversed and Simple Verse was at last crowned the 2017 St Leger Champion.

The most recent chapter of the St Leger story involves the first ever female trainer to win the race. 2016 victor Harbour Law was trained by 36 year old Laura Mongan, based in Epsom. The story continues on the 16 September 2017…who will be the hero?

The St Leger Stakes – a history of heroes…

As the flat racing season flows on towards the St Leger, speculation is rising as to who will line up on the Town Moor this September and which of these contenders will leave the stalls as favourite. With the longest roll of honour in racing, The St Leger is steeped in significance and has featured some of the most notable horses in British history. As the world of racing begins to wonder who will return to the winner’s enclosure this year, let us not forget the horses whose successes have galvanised the status of the race since its inception in 1776.

The story begins with Allabaculia, a bay mare owned by Lord Rockingham. She was of unknown breeding and, as was common at the time, remained nameless throughout her whole career. After her win in the 1776 St Leger stakes she was mistakenly listed as a colt and only when 19th century racing publications were discovered was it was revealed that the filly was known as Allabaculia. The St Leger began to rise to prominence in 1800 when a horse called Champion headed to Doncaster having won the Epsom Derby. Yorkshire born and bred, Champion hailed from Tadcaster. After winning the Derby on his first ever run, he repeated this success in the St Leger having started as 2/1 favourite. Amusingly, Champion was by a sire named Potoooooooo. The horse was meant to be named ‘potato’, but when the stable lad was instructed to write the name on the stable door he mistakenly heard the name as Pot & 8 o’s – hence the bizarre spelling! The owner of the horse, The 4th Earl of Abington, was tickled by the misunderstanding and so the name stuck. It would be 48 years before Champions Derby-Leger double would be repeated.

Nijinsky 1970
Nijinsky after his 1970 St Leger victory

In 1848 a colt named Surplice, owned by Lord Clifden, won the Epsom Derby by a neck. Heading next to Doncaster, a false start didn’t affect him and his Derby formed was confirmed by another win in the St Leger, again by just a neck. Just two days later Surplice ran again and this time his reputation was so formidable that not a single opponent turned up to contest him and he won the race by default, just having to walk over the winning line to collect his prize. Another dominant winner was the 1896 champion, a colt named Persimmon. Heading to the St Leger start he was watched anxiously watched by his owner, the then Prince of Wales. Having won the Derby that June, Persimmon started as 2/11 favourite in a field of six runners, four of whom were available to back at prices of 66/1 or more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the colt found victory easy and continued on a winning streak that would see him take first prize in seven of his nine starts. Persimmon went on to become the most influential sire of his time. One of his offspring, a filly named Sceptre, continued his legacy by not only winning the St Leger, but by winning both the 1902 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas within two days of each other. Her next stop was the Derby, where a bruised foot meant she could only come home in fourth; she avenged this defeat however by winning the Oaks just two days later. Her season only improved when she took the 1902 St Leger, galvanising her status as one of the most outstanding mares ever to take to the turf. Her record as the outright winner of four classics still remains unchallenged. Another brilliant filly to win the St Leger was Pretty Polly, bred in Ireland in 1901. In a remarkable career that saw her win 22 of her 24 starts, Pretty Polly won every race of significance for fillies and outdid all of the colts to win the St Leger on Town Moor in 1904.

In 1933 another legend of racing was created, Hyperion. Sired by Gainsborough, himself a Triple Crown winner who took the St Leger in 1918, Hyperion was owned by the 17th Earl of Derby. Fittingly he followed Prince of Wales and Chester Vase victories by a win in the Derby itself. St Leger success then rounded off an outstanding three year old season in which he was unbeaten, and his success on the turf was matched when at stud. The leading sire in 1940, 1941, 1942, 1945, 1946 & 1954, Hyperion represents a key part of the history of the thoroughbred and even produced a colt to emulate his St Leger success – Sun Chariot in 1942.

The English Triple Crown has proved notoriously difficult to win. Several horses have won the first two legs of the series, The 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Derby at Epsom, but found the St Leger a step too far. The most recent success was that of Nijinsky in 1970. Bred in Canada, Nijinsky was trained at Ballydoyle in Ireland by the late Vincent O’Brien. Beaten only twice from 13 runs, Nijinsky not only won the English Triple Crown, but managed to intersperse these wins with victories in both the Irish St Leger and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Nijinsky contracted ringworm prior to his English St Leger win, and was nursed back to health on a diet of raw eggs and Irish stout. The treatment must have been effective as the colt won comfortably, securing the last leg in the Triple Crown title that he still holds.

To be continued…


William Hill agree three-year deal with ARC to sponsor the St Leger Festival at Doncaster Racecourse including the world’s oldest Classic horserace.

William Hill Leger

Today, Arena Racing Company (“ARC”) announces that William Hill is the new sponsor of the St Leger Stakes, the world’s oldest Classic horserace.

The three-year deal sees William Hill sponsor the Group 1 St Leger Stakes, worth £700,000 this year, along with a feature race each day of the four-day festival which will be known as ‘The William Hill St Leger Festival’ and run from Wednesday 13 September to Saturday 16 September 2017.

Alongside the feature race, William Hill will sponsor the following races;

  • The William Hill Handicap on the opening day of the Festival (Wednesday);
  • The William Hill May Hill Stakes on Ladies’ Day (Thursday);
  • The William Hill Mallard Stakes on Gentlemen’s Day (Friday); and
  • The William Hill Portland Stakes on the finale, alongside the William Hill St Leger Stakes on the final day (Saturday).

In 2016, the St Leger Festival was attended by over 60,000 racegoers. In 2017, terrestrial coverage of the William Hill St Leger Stakes day will be on the ITV 1 channel with coverage on ITV4 for Ladies’ Day and Gentlemen’s Day.

New St Leger Festival sponsor, William Hill was the first betting company to sponsor a major horserace in 1957.  Today, William Hill is sponsor of the Ayr Gold Cup, Great St. Wilfrid at Ripon, Scottish Super Sprint at Musselburgh and is also the broadcast sponsor for all of ITV’s horseracing coverage.

William Hill CEO, Philip Bowcock, said: “William Hill is one of the best known brands in betting – with a long history of horseracing sponsorship.  We are delighted to sponsor the oldest classic and we will work closely with ARC to continue to build the profile and popularity of the William Hill St Leger Festival.”

Chief Executive of ARC, Martin Cruddace, said: “We are delighted William Hill have become the new sponsors of the St Leger. We really enjoy working with their team and look forward to extending this to our feature racing festival of the year. William Hill have the brand, vision and team to help build on the success of both the four-day festival and the feature race, the St Leger, which continues to be one of the most important races in the British Racing calendar.”

Executive Director of Doncaster Racecourse, Tim Banfield, said “The William Hill St Leger Festival is a wonderful four days of racing for Doncaster, the Yorkshire region and the whole of British Racing.  We aim to have a real and long-term partnership with all our sponsors and we look forward to integrating William Hill’s world-renowned brand into our feature event.  The team here are working hard on preparations for this year’s William Hill St Leger Festival and we are set on delivering another fantastic four days of racing.”

Tickets for the St. Leger Festival are now on sale and can be purchased online at


The Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO) enjoyed a warm welcome at Doncaster yesterday for the Royal Cavalry of Oman Premier Handicap, won by Saleemah, ridden by Will Pettis, in the colours of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Trained by Phil Collington, the four year old filly contested the lead with Forta Stud’s Aurora Forta, finally gaining a length advantage in the 2 mile contest. The two finished well clear of the third, Almareekh, also trained by Collington for His Highness.

Photo courtesy: Andrew Kelly PhotographyDON 03_06_2017 Derby Day-143

Collington was slightly surprised by the result saying: “She’s by Madjani, out of a miler, so this wasn’t an obvious race for her. We were a bit disappointed with her run last time at Wolverhampton, but she obviously wants a bit of cut and this ground definitely helped her.”

Pete Hammersley who trained Aurora Forta was delighted with her performance saying: “She ran a cracking race. Munbaher probably went off a bit too quickly on that softish ground, but I’m impressed with the way she kept up with him. Obviously I hoped she would hang on at the finish, but Saleemah just got the edge. It was a gutsy performance from her and also Majid Bin Krayaan who finished fourth.”

This stamina test is just one of a range of single races supported by The Royal Cavalry run on thoroughbred cards, from the lower levels to the highest, of which the Doncaster race is the first this season.  It also includes The Royal Cavalry of Oman Clarendon Stakes, a Group 3 run over 5 furlongs at Newbury on August 19.

ARO Racing Operations Executive Gemma Cobb commented: “That was a brave performance from two fillies on soft ground. We are very grateful for the continued support from the Royal Cavalry of Oman, who have been part of Arabian racing in the UK for many years now.

She concluded: “We thank all the team and racegoers at Doncaster, for a very warm reception, and we also thank the racecourse teams at Taunton, Bath, Newbury for their support of the Royal Cavalry’s single race sponsorship in 2017.”

Racing Welfare Charity Raceday


Sponsored by Betfair and featuring the Betfair Clock Tower Cup for stable staff on  Friday 7th July 2017.

The Betfair Clock Tower Cup charity race for stable staff and the charity lunch at Doncaster are now in their third year and the day is the pinnacle of Racing Welfare’s initiative Racing Staff Week.


Racing Staff Week showcases the vital role that stable and stud staff, and indeed all the people who work behind the scenes, play in the production of British horseracing.  It also promotes the work that the Racing Welfare charity do to support racing’s workforce.

Trainers have nominated valued members of staff to realise their ambition of riding in the race and the atmosphere will be electric as colleagues, family and friends – along with jockeys who they will have ridden work with on the gallops, come along to cheer them on.

Please join their supporters and other racing industry enthusiasts at the charity lunch which has been organised to raise funds for Racing Welfare.  Tickets include a Champagne reception, three course lunch and wine as well as an auction and celebrity tipster and are £130 each or £1300 for a table of 10.  To book tickets or a table please contact Mary-Ann Sandercock, or call 07790 844887 for more details.


Oman-Hi-Res logoThe Arabian Racing Organisation (ARO) was pleased with the 11 runners declared for the Royal Cavalry of Oman Premier Handicap to be run over 2 miles at Doncaster this Saturday, June 3. A long term supporter of Arabian racing in the UK, The Royal Cavalry of Oman have maintained their UK sponsorship for 2017, having increased their support last year.

This stamina test is just one of a range of single races supported by The Royal Cavalry  run on thoroughbred cards, from the lower levels to the highest, of which the Doncaster race is the first this season.  It also includes The Royal Cavalry of Oman Clarendon Stakes, a Group 3 run over 5 furlongs at Newbury on August 19.

ARO Racing Operations Executive Gemma Cobb commented: “With a mix of seasoned handicappers and unexposed young horses, it promises to be an interesting contest. ARO welcomes the continued support of The Royal Cavalry of Oman who have been part of Arabian racing in the UK for more than ten years.

“Their sponsorship got off to a successful start with six of eight races at our Taunton fixture last month. In addition, since returning to the UK training ranks, they have had winner and horses placed at each meeting, and we wish them continued success throughout the year.”

Karar ARO

Photo: KARAR – 2 June 2016, Doncaster Racecourse

She concluded: “We look forward to running at Doncaster, where we always receive a warm welcome, and we also thank the racecourse teams at Taunton, Bath, Newbury and for their support of the Royal Cavalry’s single race sponsorship in 2017.”