David Ord takes a trip down memory lane and picks out his favourite William Hill St Leger memories - starting with Cut Above in 1981.
Saturday sees the William Hill St Leger – a relatively new sponsor but the world’s oldest Classic.
As a born (I know) and bred (I’m guessing) Yorkshireman it’s always held a special place in my heart and calendar.
There was a period – through the 1990s in particular – when there was talk of the race losing it’s relevance. In an era where the need for speed dominated, ten furlongs form was the be all and end all, Derby and Oaks winners would drop in trip rather than step up to a mile and six.
To be fair it isn’t the automatic calling point for the Classic stars nowadays - the riches of the international autumn calendar means there are various prestigious pots to tempt them elsewhere - but it’s fighting back.
Camelot’s Triple Crown bid may have ended in agonising defeat in 2012 but it did much to rekindle interest in the great race and with a bumper crowd heading to Town Moor on Saturday to witness the latest renewal – what better time to wander down memory lane to my favourite Legers of yesteryear.
WATCH: Dave Ord and Ben Linfoot discuss the St Leger Festival
1981 Cut Above
It’s not always about the winner. I can distinctly remember as an eight-year-old watching on in disbelief as Shergar floundered up the long, Doncaster straight. The same Shergar who did much to fuel my interest in the sport with his runaway Derby win. The same Shergar who saw off the older horses in the King George. The unbeatable, the incomparable Shergar. That one.
It was two furlongs out that Graham Goode exclaimed “Walter Swinburn is asking him to quicken and he isn’t finding a lot” that we knew his goose was cooked. A lesson that in the great game there’s no such thing as a certainty – and how an extra two furlongs can break even the biggest of talents.
The winner was trained by Dick Hern, a revered figure in the Ord household and a staunch supporter of the race. With stable jockey Willie Carson sidelined his predecessor at West Ilsley Joe Mercer did the steering for owner Sir John Astor. It was a flashback to a bygone era “Old Firm Strikes” declared the next day’s Sporting Life.
In a pointer for the years to come my dad had backed the other Hern horse, Bustomi. He was third under Lester Piggott.
1983 Sun Princess
Another Hern winner and a wonderful filly. It took connections an age to master her headstrong tendencies but her brilliant Oaks win at Epsom will live long on the memory. So will Leger day. I remember it rained, and rained, and rained.
The owners had the Arc as her main autumn target and had itchy feet but trainer and jockey were adamant she should run. She did and the way Carson nursed her home in a driving finish to fend off mudlark Carlingford Castle and French raider Espirit Du Noir was a masterclass in race-riding.
Any fears she’d left the Arc behind that day were dispelled three weeks later in Paris when but for All Along’s remarkable burst down the far rail under Walter Swinburn she'd have added Europe’s middle-distance championship to an impressive CV.
1985 Oh So Sharp
The only Triple Crown winner during my time following the sport in Britain. She was brave in winning the 1000 Guineas in a three-way photo, brilliant in the Oaks and a mix of the two at Doncaster.
Stablemate Lanfranco looked the main danger and approaching the two furlong marker he led with the filly in his slipstream. Lester Piggott took a long, lingering look behind him aboard the leader but seconds later Oh So Sharp had quickened past.
That was the brilliance – then came the bravery. Because if got tough from there. Lanfranco rallied, Phardante thrust from the rear of the field. She had to stay every yard of the trip to fend them off but under a rhythmic Steve Cauthen drive she did just that, claiming her place in turf history and trainer, the late great Sir Henry Cecil, became the first handler to win over a £1million in prize money during a season.
1987 Reference Point
Another Cecil winner and a wonderful colt. He was all guts and did it the hard way from the front, with his heart on his sleeve. They couldn’t get past him in the Dante or Derby and while he was touched off by Mtoto in an epic Eclipse duel up the Sandown hill, he was back to winning ways in the King George at Ascot.
He was a horse who thrived on racing and took in the Great Voltigeur at York en-route to Doncaster, winning there, as he did at Town Moor. It was hard work as Mountain Kingdom stalked throughout and switched out for a final dart at the leader a furlong out.
He looked a huge threat but again Reference Point wasn’t for passing. Here we had a Derby winner who’d turned up at all the major summer dances, winning a Leger. A wonderful day.
1992 User Friendly
Another star filly and what a tough, reliable one she was too. She arrived at Doncaster on the back of wins in the Oaks, Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks. She was unbeaten heading to Town Moor and left with that record in tact – and her reputation enhanced.
The 7/4 favourite was a cut above her rivals under George Duffield – a stalwart of the northern circuit and finally being given a chance to shine on one of its biggest days. Three-and-a-half lengths was the winning distance over Sonus – and she too headed straight to Longchamp for an agonising Arc defeat – beaten a neck by Subotica.
2002 Bollin Eric
Twenty-nine years after Peleid had given the north their last St Leger win – along came Bollin Eric to deliver a shot in the arm for the home team. The Easterby family had been training for Sir Noeil Westbrook for 40 years and along with jockey Kevin Darley, all were winning their first Classics.
They did it with a teak-tough colt too who hadn’t won since taking a nursery at the corresponding meeting 12 months previously.
He had run a string of huge races though, placed in both the Dante, King Edward VII and Great Voltigeur. Stamina was his forte and ridden to perfection, made a crucial move when booting clear two out. Highest emerged to chase him down but was never overhauling the leader who enjoyed his finest hour on the day that mattered most to connections.
We started with a Leger that was all about a beaten favourite – and end with one too. Camelot came to Doncaster a 2/5 market leader to become the first colt since Nijinsky to complete the Triple Crown.
In the end he came up short – three-quarters of a length short to be precise - as Encke sprang a 25/1 surprise for Godolphin.
Rarely has an atmosphere at a racecourse fallen so flat so quickly as it became apparent in the final 100 yards that the Ballydoyle colt wasn’t going to reel-in his target. For Coolmore and racing fans the wait goes on…