The St Leger and the Quest for The Triple Crown

12th September 2012

By Alice Kay

On Saturday 15th September, a three year old colt named Camelot will attempt to join a fabled list of horses by winning the St Leger Stakes and completing the Triple Crown. Already the winner of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Epsom Derby, the Coolmore owned runner faces one of the toughest and most prestigious tests in racing in trying to win three races over distances ranging from a mile to an extended mile and six furlongs over a period of five months.

The St Leger is the longest and oldest of the three legs, and often seen as the most difficult challenge to overcome, as it requires the most stamina and comes at the end of a busy season. Established in 1776 as a two mile race on the Cantely Common course, it adopted its current distance a few years later and relocated to Doncaster racecourse. Named for Colonel Anthony St Leger, it is the oldest Classic (a prestigious race restricted to three year olds) in the world and boasts many champions on its roll of honour.

Amongst these are fifteen Triple Crown winners, although it is disputed whether three wartime winners- Pommern, Gay Crusader and Gainsborough - truly count as they won all three races at Newmarket, and so did not show the same versatility. The treble was first won by West Australian in 1853, but it was not until the fourth Triple Crown winner, Ormonde, over thirty years later that the achievement was fully recognised.

The first Triple Crown winner, West Australian The first Triple Crown winner, West Australian

Many horses, such as Donovan (1889) and Ladas (1894), have come close to winning the three races, whilst others have won two legs without running in the third, e.g. Reference Point (1987) and Sea The Stars (2009). Some such as St Amant (1904) and Manna (1925) found the St Leger a race too far and finished well beaten.

The Triple Crown winners themselves, whilst all champions of their crop, were diverse in terms of background, racing career and success at stud. Some, such as Galtee More and Rock Sand were precocious juveniles, whilst others such as Diamond Jubilee were slower to mature. Common was completely unfancied in the Classics, yet managed to win the Guineas on his debut and proved the year’s best three year old. Lord Lyon, however, was lucky to win the Triple Crown at all as he won the Derby and St Leger by very narrow margins. In the Nineteenth and early Twenty Century, the Ascot Gold Cup was a major target for horses staying in training, and three Triple Crown winners- West Australian, Gladiateur and Isinglass- added this race to their records (Gay Crusader won the replacement Gold Cup at Newmarket).

Several winners also went on to become top class stallions. West Australian sired many excellent horses, and played a significant role in ensuring the survival of the Godolphin Arabian’s sire line.  Others such as Isinglass, Gainsborough, Bahram and Nijinsky also produced champions and Classic winners. Indeed, Ormonde is actually a grandsire of fellow Triple Crown winner Flying Fox, who in turn features in the pedigrees of American Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Citation.

The most recent Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky The most recent Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky

Camelot himself features Triple Crown winners Rock Sand, Gay Crusader and Gainsborough in his extended pedigree. The son of Montjeu is currently undefeated, and will look to join the likes of Ormonde and Bahram in winning the treble without being beaten. He will also attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in over 40 years (since Nijinsky in 1970), representing the longest gap between winners on record.

The feats of the Triple Crown winners are a hugely significant part of the history of thoroughbred racing, and the entire racing world eagerly awaits to see if Camelot can add to their legend.

A table of all fifteen Triple Crown winners and their connections.

Horse Date Jockey Trainer Owner
West Australian 1853 Frank Butler John Scott John Bowes
Gladiateur 1865 Harry Grimshaw Tom Jennings Sr Frédéric de Lagrange
Lord Lyon 1866 Harry Custance James Dover Richard Sutton
Ormonde 1886 Fred Archer John Porter Duke of Westminster
Common 1891 George Barrett John Porter Sir Frederick Johnstone
Isinglass 1893 Tommy Loates James Jewitt Harry McCalmont
Galtee More 1897 Charlie Wood Sam Darling John Gubbins
Flying Fox 1899 Morny Cannon John Porter Duke Of Westminster
Diamond Jubilee 1900 Herbert Jones Richard Marsh Edward, Prince of Wales
Rock Sand 1903 Danny Maher George Blackwell Sir James Miller
Pommern 1915 Steve Donoghue Charles Peck Solly Joel
Gay Crusader 1917 Steve Donoghue Alec Taylor Jr Alfred W. Cox
Gainsborough 1918 Joseph Childs Alec Taylor Jr Lady James Douglas
Bahram 1935 Freddie Fox & Charlie Smirke Frank Butters HH Aga Khan III
Nijinsky 1970 Lester Piggott Vincent O’Brien Charles W. Engelhard Jr.

The Museum showcases the Triple Crown in a display featuring the tail of Gladiateur, a beautiful painting of Gainsborough and various artefacts from the other winners.