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Posts Tagged ‘Nijinsky II’

It is the oldest classic race in England and, arguably, the most prestigious.

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The English St Leger Stakes is the classic that marks the end of the British flat racing season and its prestige is such that a “St. Leger copy” has been woven into racing calendars in Ireland, Jamaica, Australia and the United States. This classic takes place in Doncaster, Yorkshire, a large town that was initially settled on the site of a Roman fort, Danum, in the first century B.C., maturing into a busy town by the 13th century. Near enough to larger cities to make travel there feasible by horse, Doncaster was (and remains) a market, or “mercat” town, with a thriving commerce designated, like all such towns in England, by its market cross. From about the 15th century, Doncaster was known as a prosperous area, populated by the wealthy who lived in estates like Cantley Hall and Brodsworth Hall.

The market cross, designating Doncaster as a market town where goods of all kinds and livestock were sold for centuries, stands to this day on the site of the original market.

The market cross, designating Doncaster as a market town where goods of all kinds and livestock were sold for centuries, stands to this day on the site of the original market.

 

Doncaster market in 1906.

Doncaster market in 1906.

 

Doncaster market today.

Doncaster market today.

Doncaster is one of the oldest centres for horse racing in Britain, with records of regular race meetings going back to the 16th century. In 1600 there was an attempt to put an end to the races because of the number of ruffians they attracted, but by 1614 failure to do so was acknowledged and a proper racecourse was duly marked out. The Doncaster Cup, the city’s oldest classic race, was first run on Cantley Common in 1766; by 1776, the Doncaster racecourse as we know it today was set up in its permanent home, the Town Moor.

Doncaster racecourse as it looked in the 18th century.

Doncaster racecourse as it looked in the 18th century.

 

Doncaster racecourse circa 1900...

Doncaster racecourse circa 1900…

 

...and today.

…and today.

The original St. Leger kicked off in 1776 and, with only one exception, has run annually in September ever since.

This year, the field for the 2016 St. Leger is dominated by Coolmore-Ballydoyle’s colt, Idaho, although it won’t be any cake-walk for the promising son of Galileo. Open to 3 year-old fillies and colts (and barred to geldings) the St. Leger remains a gruelling test of stamina in a sport that more and more bows to the “speed gene.” It is the third and last leg of the British Triple Crown, the first two being the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. Unlike the practice in North America, the British Triple Crown races are spaced further apart, taking place over a period of roughly 3 months. Interestingly, to sweep the British Triple for fillies, contenders must also win the St. Leger.

But there is at least one powerful reason that the incomparable Nijinsky stands as the UK’s last Triple Crown winner: the crucible of the St. Leger. Run originally at 2 miles, it is slightly shorter today at 1 mile, 6f, 132 yds, making it about 2f longer than the Belmont Stakes. It is a race for “stayers” not speedballs and, as you might well expect, has long been an indicator of prime bloodstock in the form of great sires and mares whose influence on the breed would be a lasting one.

Some rare footage of Nijinsky’s St. Leger win, showing owner Charles Englehardt and the colt’s trainer, the legendary Vincent O’Brien. O’Brien would later say that illness prior to the race, coupled with the toll on Nijinsky of the St. Leger, would cost the champion a win in the Arc a month later. (Apologies for the buzz on the tape.)

 

The brilliance of Northern Dancer’s most celebrated son, “…cruising up on the outside as smooth as silk…” provided by BCS TV and Steve Mellish, together with a look at why it took another 42 years for a thoroughbred to come along who would try to clinch the Triple again. That colt was Camelot:

But Camelot would go down to defeat, leaving Nijinsky’s 1970 triumph to stand as the outstanding achievement it quite rightly was then, and now. The rarity of any colt or filly today who is up to the Triple Crown challenge is not only a matter of breeding for speed. Many British trainers prefer to bypass the St. Leger, in favour of running in the “sexier,” because more glamorous, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or the Breeders’ Cup Turf Classic.

Although the first St. Leger was run as a nameless race — won by a nameless filly who was later christened Allabaculia, owned by the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham  — it would become the crowning achievement for many great blood horses whose names we still recognize today and whose bloodlines shaped the modern thoroughbred: Touchstone, The Flying Dutchman, Voltigeur, Newminster, Stockwell, West Australian (first winner of the British Triple Crown), Ormonde, Rock Sand (10th Triple Crown winner and BM sire of Man O’ War)), La Flèche, Isinglass, Persimmon, Swinford, Tracery, Hyperion, Bahram, Tulyar and the smashing fillies Sceptre, Pretty Polly and Oh So Sharp, trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil for Sheikh Mohammed and ridden by legendary Steve Cauthen. With her win in the St. Leger, Oh So Sharp swept the British Triple Crown for fillies, having already annexed the 1000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks.

 

The mighty OH SO SHARP was a daughter of KRIS. As Steve Cauthen would say on retirement, she was the best filly he ever rode.

The mighty OH SO SHARP was a daughter of KRIS. As Steve Cauthen would say on retirement, she was the best filly he ever rode. Pictured with Cauthen aboard going down to the start of the St. Leger, which she won.

 

In 1778 the St. Leger was given its name and a change of venue. According to British historian Michael Church, “…At a dinner party held at the Red Lion Inn, Doncaster that year, the Marquis of Rockingham proposed the race be called the St Leger’s Stakes as a compliment to the popular local sportsman Lt-Gen. Anthony St Leger of Park Hill. The venue was then changed to Town Moor, Doncaster and the race run on Tuesday, 22 September 1778.”

The term St. Leger Stakes was originally understood to refer to a multiple of races, including the prestigious Doncaster Gold Cup that brought champions like Kincsem to England. Preceding the St. Leger by a decade, it was still to see the (Doncaster) Gold Cup that brought racegoers out when St. Leger Stakes day came into being.  Run over a distance of 2 miles, 2f, the (Doncaster) Gold Cup is another massive test of endurance. In 2014 when HM The Queen’s mare, Estimate, won it as a 5 year-old, there could be little doubt of her stamina. In this, we hearken back to a time when stamina was the true test of a great thoroughbred and both colts and fillies were really pushed to show it, and to show it consistently. Keep in mind that up until the late 19th century, most flat races in the British Isles were run in heats and a thoroughbred with no serious staying power wouldn’t have managed well at all. Those that did were retired to the breeding shed, thus assuring results that we see today in individuals like Galileo, Frankel, Goldikova, St. Nicholas Abbey, Ouija Board, Midday and their exceptional peers.

Since 1778, the first year it was run under this name, the St. Leger has frequently taken place in different locales. From 1915 to 1918, it was held at Newmarket, where it was known as the September Stakes. The St. Leger was cancelled only once in 230 years, in 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, and this cost the brilliant Blue Peter his chance to snare the Triple Crown. It resumed the following year, but changed courses annually throughout the war years. In 1940, the race was held at Thirsk, moving to Manchester in 1941. It was then held at Newmarket for three years (1942 to 1944) before moving to York in 1945. Most recently, in 2006, the race was again held at York, since the Doncaster racecourse was undergoing renovations.

But regardless of where it was held, papers like The Tatler, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, Bailey’s News and The Illustrated London News considered the winners of the St. Leger and the (Doncaster) Gold Cup a lead story. In the pre-photography days, this meant deploying at least one “on the scene” artist who could render the atmosphere at Doncaster, as well as the winners. And notable artists like John Frederick Herring Jr., as well as prominent photographers like W.A. Roach lined up to record images of the day’s winners.

PRETTY POLLY shown winning the St. Leger.

PRETTY POLLY shown winning the St. Leger.

PETRARCH, another St. Leger winner.

PETRARCH, another St. Leger winner.

The dramatic clash between LADAS and the filly makes the cover of The London Illustrated News.

The dramatic clash between LADAS and the filly THROSTLE in the 1894 St. Leger makes the cover of The London Illustrated News.The filly, a daughter of PETRARCH (shown above) won.

 

Just imagine what it must have been like on the day: ladies in their finery, horses and carriages lined up row-on-row, gentlemen gathering in the walking ring and huddling in the stands, baskets laden with food and drink, punters before their chalkboards and boys swooping through the bettors to gather money and give out chits, hundreds of pairs of binoculars raised in one deft stroke at the start, the roaring of thousands gathered on the ground as the field turned for home. St. Leger Stakes Day had to be quite the spectacle.

Today, the dowager races of the British flat season may have lost some of their glitter, but to top trainers and thoroughbred people they remain steeped in an undeniable history and tradition of greatness.

HARZAND digs deep to repel IDAHO (outside) in the Irish Derby.

HARZAND digs deep to repel IDAHO (outside) in the Irish Derby.

Saturday, September 10, Aidan O’Brien’s Idaho (Galileo) will enter the fray to vie for his chance to join the exclusive ranks of St. Leger winners. The colt won The Great Voltigeur (at York) last time out, considered the favoured prep race for the St. Leger and will likely have a rabbit in the form of the very good Housesofparliament (Galileo), whom he just beat out in the Voltigeur. (Below, article with short video of Idaho winning the Great Voltigeur from Housesofparliament.)

http://www.racinguk.com/news/article/45123/idaho-leads-home-aidan-obrien-one-two-in-great-voltigeur-stakes-at-york

The other Ballydoyle entry is Sword Fighter, completing a treble of Galileo’s for trainer Aidan O’Brien. Good as Idaho’s credentials are, it is worth noting that O’Brien’s previous 4 St. Leger winners have come from the deceased Montjeu and Sadler’s Wells. However, Camelot came very close in 2012, and Bondi Beach, another Galileo, was held to second place after an inquiry resulting from the bumping of winner Simple Verse last year. So it would appear that there’s nothing to stop a good Galileo from getting the distance — whether it be Idaho, Sword Fighter or Housesofparliament — especially in what looks like a rather ho-hum field.

Should IDAHO, HOUSESOFPARLIAMENT or SWORD FIGHTER bring home the St. Leger, it will be a first for mega-sire GALILEO

Should either IDAHO, HOUSESOFPARLIAMENT or SWORD FIGHTER bring it home, they will be the first St. Leger winner for their mega-sire GALILEO.

Handicapping a race for stayers can be tough in today’s racing world. Such an individual may well handle the distance by laying off the pace most of the way and an entry whose done poorly over a shorter distance might come up roses in a contest like the St. Leger. So Paul Hanagan’s Muntahaa (Dansili out of a Linamix mare), a big colt who will love the distance if he’s going to get into gear, should be taken seriously. Another aspect in Muntahaa’s favour is that he’s handy on good-to-soft turf: rain is currently in the forecast for Saturday. Flying under the radar at the moment is Richard Hannon’s Ventura Storm (Zoffany out of a Haafhd mare/Northern Dancer through Unfuwain), another who will cope with rain and has a very good record of 5 wins in 10 starts. Harrison is still another colt no-one is paying much attention to, but it must be said that his sire, Sixties Icon, won the St. Leger and his dam is by Invincible Spirit. In addition, Harrison ran 4th to Idaho last time out and although he hasn’t seen the winners’ circle yet this season, the St. Leger might be a much better distance for him.

The others: The Tartan Unit is lightly raced, loves soft ground and comes from the Storm Cat line through Catienus; Ormito, trained by Andrew Balding, has the benefit of a great pedigree in his BM sire Acatenango (the BM sire of Animal Kingdom); and Harbour Law doesn’t look to have the pedigree to be a strong contender.

There will be some serious competition on St. Leger Saturday from the Irish Champions’ series which is also on that day, so much so that Ballydoyle’s Ryan Moore will stay in Ireland with Seamie Heffernan getting the call to pilot Idaho at Doncaster. It’s not the first time that the St. Leger has been pinched for viewers’ attention.

But it’s impossible to imagine that this venerable race, taking place over the ground where Romans marched and where thoroughbred legends like The Tetrarch raced to victory in the 1913 Champagne Stakes, has any serious equal on September 10.

THE TETRARCH.

THE TETRARCH, a racing immortal, danced across the Doncaster turf in 1913. Through his daughters, he lives on and has brought us the likes of MAHMOUD, NEARCO, NASRULLAH, BOLD RULER, NORTHERN DANCER, FRANKEL and AMERICAN PHAROAH.

 

 

Sources

Church, Michael. The Origins of the St. Leger and the one running missed! Published on his blog, Michael Church Racing Books.

The National Racing Museum, Newmarket, UK

Racing Post: Race card for the St. Leger (Sept 10, 2016)

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Just as I was getting ready to post the second part of my Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred article, the news came that Lammtarra had died. And the presses ground to a halt, here, and right around the world. The internet was alive with photos, dedications and memories. The racing world stopped betting, debating, reporting and analyzing, to mourn.

Unless you were following international racing in 1994-1995, Lammtarra is only a name to you, if that. It has become in vogue to talk about great thoroughbreds using metaphors like the one of a comet flashing through the firmament. But what Lammtarra represented was something more curious, something inexplicable, something even those who knew him best seemed at a loss to capture.

Lammtarra was a symbol — and symbols, by definition, are always greater than whatever they stand for. Symbols, like metaphors, are part of a secret and universal grammar. Each man, woman and child, wherever they are, understands this secret way of saying. And of thinking. Since a symbol, like a metaphor, is there to take the mind to higher ground.

Although we like to clarify them by saying that X is a “symbol of” something or other, the greatest symbols just are. 

And Lammtarra just is  — and will forever be.

For Laura Thompson, in her brilliant book, Quest For Greatness: A Celebration of Lammtarra and the Racing Season (ISBN: 0 7181 4159 8) — the kind of book that sets the standard for what a book about a thoroughbred and the sport itself should be — Lammtarra was the embodiment of greatness:

” … At the heart of flat racing, there is an almost painful dialectical pull: between the enduring memory of a horse, and the ephemerality from which that memory proceeds. This dialectic is of the essence, and stronger than in any other sport. In Lammtarra, it found its perfect expression. Never was a sporting career so etiolated and so resonant: it was as thin and fine as one of the horse’s own limbs.” (p. 4)

True to the landscape of symbol, listing the handsome chestnut’s endowments and accomplishments only dwarf the individual from which they flowed. Lammtarra was brilliant on the turf, coming back from an illness that almost killed him to start his 3 year-old season with the Derby, where he set a turf record that stood for 15 years (until Workforce took it down in 2010). In a short career of 4 starts/4 wins, including the 1995 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Stakes at Ascot and the Arc in the same year, Lammtarra did the impossible.

But merely saying it falls pitifully short of the mark. The video record of the 1995 Derby is a treasure, not the least for its obvious disregard of the Godolphin entry, and understandably so. After all, Lammtarra was making only the second start in his life as a racehorse, the first of which had been over a year before:

Walter Swinburn, who rode him to victory, remembers that after they crossed the finish line, Lammtarra wanted to keep running, just as he’d done in his first win as a two year-old. Today, Swinburn places Lammtarra in the triumvirate of thoroughbreds that he considers the best he ever rode. The other two are Shergar (1978) and the lesser-known, though gifted, Zilzal (1986).

Placing Frankie Dettori in the saddle for the last two races of his colt’s career, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was very likely as shocked as the rest of the European and British racing community to see what Lammtarra had in store. Only the incomparable Mill Reef (1968) had ever pulled off this triple in a single season. But, unlike Paul Mellon’s champion, Lammtarra was still learning the game:

And then he was gone.

Sent to the breeding shed, Lammtarra stood only one season at his owner’s Dalham Hall Stud before he was sold, for 30 million dollars, to take up stud duties in Japan. There, too, he failed to get anything even close to his own brilliance. In August 2006, upon learning that Arrow Stud was planning to sell Lammtarra to Korean interests, HH Sheikh Mohammed bought his champion back, and the stallion ended his days in the lush paddocks of Dalham Hall Stud near Newmarket. Even in retirement, Lammtarra had frequent visits from horse people of all kinds and when the Dalham Hall stallions were on parade, he was proudly brought out as well. It was eminently clear that HH Sheikh Mohammed and the Dalham Hall staff who cared for him would honour Lammtarra as the champion he was until the end of his days.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY among other champion progeny with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE. Like many of LAMMTARRA'S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH brings her sire's brilliance to her offspring.

URBAN SEA, herself a winner of the Arc, and the dam of GALILEO, SEA THE STARS, MY TYPHOON and BLACK SAM BELLAMY with her 1997 filly foal by LAMMTARRA who was named MELIKAH. Owned by Darley, MELIKAH is the dam of champion MASTERSTROKE, who is now at stud in France. Like many of LAMMTARRA’S daughters, who are sought after, MELIKAH is playing an important role in keeping LAMMTARRA’S memory alive. Photo and copyright, seathestars.com

 

Although his breeding career was unsuccessful, Lammtarra’s daughters and their progeny are still prized, given his exceptional bloodlines. Here is Lammtarra’s grandson, Masterstroke (2009), running third behind the winner, Solemia, in the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, beating the likes of the 2012 Derby winner, Camelot (2009), and superstar, St. Nicholas Abbey (2007) to the wire.

Lammtarra means “invisible” in Arabic. It seems a strange name to give a colt of such royal lineage. But the name certainly carries a very ancient wisdom about what can be known versus what lies beyond. And in Lammtarra, that wisdom found an eternal home.

 

 

” … you are whatever a moon has always meant
 and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody

knows 
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the

bud
 and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows 
higher than soul can hope

or mind can hide) 
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) “

 

(from “i carry your heart” by e.e. cummings)

 

This article is respectfully dedicated to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and to the the staff of Dalham Hall Stud.

 

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