Lord Rockingham insisted, “No, it is my friend St Leger who suggested the thing to me – call it after him.” The former Prime Minister was hosting a dinner party in Doncaster's Red Lion Inn when he wanted to name an unnamed race that had already been run twice. Some wanted the race to be named in the host's honour but Rockingham would not hear of it. So, in September 1778, the St Leger Stakes was christened.
Colonel Anthony St Leger was born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1732, and had a successful military career until his regiment was disbanded. After marrying a Yorkshire woman, Margaret Wombwell, he set up home at Park Hill, just outside Doncaster, and dabbled in farming at the time of the agricultural revolution.
A keen racing man St Leger was particularly interested in races confined to three-year-olds, the first of which had been run over two miles on Newmarket's Beacon Course, on 4 October 1756. Open to new ideas he believed that three was the perfect age for the thoroughbred to be tested. Consequently, he devised a two-mile race for colts and fillies, a sweepstake of 25 guineas each, colts to carry 8st and fillies 7st 12lb.
Run on Tuesday, 24 September, 1776, after attracting six subscribers, and the result was:
1 Lord Rockingham's br f Alabacula, by Sampson … John Singleton
2 Mr St Leger's b f by Trusty
3 Mr Wentworth's b c Orestes, by Doge
0 Lord Rockingham's ch c by Remes
0 Mr Foljambe's b f a son of Blank
Little more is known of the race other than it was held at Cantley Common, just beyond Rose Hill Farm. In “Historical Notices of Doncaster Races” Sheardown says that the jockey who wore Rockingham's green jacket and black cap colours “was born at Kendal on the 24th June, 1732; his father was a horse dealer. John became a jockey at the age of sixteen, and rode his first winner at Kirkby Lonsdale...He was also the rider of Cyclops, and jockeyed Eclipse in most of his great races.”
The 1777 renewal was run on Tuesday, 23 September, over the same course and had attracted 12 subscribers. The result was:
1 Mr Sotherton's b c Bourbon, by Le Sang – Queen Elizabeth … John Cade
2 Mr Pratt's b f Ballad Singer, by Le Sang – Red Rose
3 Sir H Harpur's b f by Snap – dam by Blank
0 Mr Pratt's b f Meretrix, by Engineer – dam by Syphon
0 Mr Bethell's b f by Hutton's Ranger – Laura
0 Mr Radcliffe's b c by Goldfinger – dam by Shepherd's Crab
0 Mr Farrar's b c by Herod – Florinda
0 Lord Scarborough's f by Wildair – dam by Swiss
0 Mr St Leger's b c by Scrub – Jenny O!
0 Mr Wentworth's Grey Leg by Wildair
Betting – 11/5 Sir H Harpur's filly; 3/1 Bourbon
Again little is known of the race but we do know that winning jockey John Cade was a Yorkshireman who had trained under John Hutchinson and was for many years first jockey to Mr Peregrine Wentworth.
Possibly anticipating the success of the meeting, after the 1776 race, plans were put in place for a new course. On an adjacent site, a grandstand, designed by John Carr, was built by Theakston and Beard for £2637. Other facilities, including “the Tryer's stand and the rubbing stables”, finally took the expenditure to £7282 – 17sh..
With a certain amount of poetic justice, when the race was first ran as the St Leger Stakes it was run for the first time on Doncaster Town Moor - its home ever since.
By Tony Lake