The Guide to the St. Leger Meeting
Doncaster Racecourse hosts a number of prominent contests each year but their annual showpiece is the high-profile St. Leger Meeting in September where punters enjoy an exciting four days of flat racing action.
Generally held around the second week of September, the festival traditionally begins on Wednesday and ends on Saturday.
The festival is considered to be the premier social event in the area each year and it also draws a who's-who of the flat racing world with its feature race serving as the third leg of the British Triple Crown.
Staying Contests Abound
The racing at Doncaster tends to be oriented around staying contests and the St. Leger Meeting is no exception.
Betting during the St. Leger Meeting generally involves handicapping for distance and this can make things a bit more straightforward if you are planning to orient your bets primarily around the feature contests.
Even a number of the races on the undercards tend to be longer-distance races and basing your wagers around proven form at the distance and younger contenders with prominent stayin pedigrees can pay dividends.
The Doncaster surface itself is based around the left-handed Round Course and it has been renovated recently with a new mile course constructed to come into the Round Course at a tangent. There is also a straight course that handles races anywhere from 5f to 1m.
A 1m shoot is also available for one-turn contests. The St. Leger Course is part of the Round Course and measures a full 1m6f132y. The lowest point of the racecourse is the sharp left-hand turn that runs at nearly 90 degrees and having to uphill around that quirky next turn can be a make-or-break for many contenders, particularly in the longer races.
The better races are back-ended over the four-day festival with Friday and Saturday playing host to the higher-profile contests. The reorganization of the British flat racing season has resulted in some of the contests moving days within the festival. There are several notable contests unfolding here each year.
Four Days of Racing Action
The Group 2 Doncaster Cup is a proper staying contest going 2m2f and it is one of the major races of the meeting. It is open to three-year-olds and up while representing the final leg of the Stayer's Triple Crown.
It was originally run at 4m in its first iteration all the way back in 1776. There is a 1st handicap for four-year-olds and up while a 5lb penalty exists for Group 1 winners.
The Portland Handicap is ungraded but is considered to be one of the features of the meet. It is easily one of the shortest races coming in at a 5f140y distance. It is contested as a handicap for contenders aged three and up.
Along with the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes, it represents one of the better short-distance races at the meeting. The Flying Childers is, however, restricted to two-year-olds. Notably, Zebedee scored a win here in 2010 and was retired to stud at two because of it.
The Park Stakes is a Group 2 encounter for three-year-olds and up where four-year-olds only face a 4lb weight penalty. The race was run at a 1m distance until 1996 when it went to 7f. Don't confuse this race with the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes which is a turf contest for fillies and mares going 1m6f132y in a handicap contest. This is a supremely old race, like many at this festival, and was originally run back in 1839.
The St. Leger is run on the final day of the festival and is the key race that the meeting is oriented around. It generally doesn't feature prominent contenders from earlier in the Classics season because it is run at more of a specialist distance.
There is a big difference between winning at 1m and winning at 1m6f and it usually takes a different exercise regiment and pedigree to be able to excel going long. The race is restricted to three-year-olds with fillies given a 3lb allowance.
The specialist distance of the St. Leger has resulted in a number of other nations hosting their own version of this race with Italian, German and Irish St. Legers being run annually. Top finishers enjoy their share of a purse worth in excess of £500,000.
Godolphin and Sheikh Mohammed have put their mark on the race over the past few years with Frankie Dettori winning the race five times between 1995-2008.