Who are the 2019 St Leger contenders for Britain’s oldest Classic?

Published on: August 26, 2019
Author: Jamie Clark
These 2019 St Leger contenders are looking to follow in the hoofprints of Kew Gardens

For over 240 years, horse racing enthusiasts have been talking about St Leger contenders.

First run in 1776, the Doncaster showpiece over an extended 1m 6f is the final Classic contest of the British and Irish Flat season.

You know it’s autumn when thousands of punters descend on Town Moor outside this Yorkshire settlement looking to pick the Leger winner.

As Britain’s oldest Classic, it has huge prestige and a storied history with winners likely to become useful National Hunt sires or broodmares at stud.

All St Leger contenders must have stamina as the trip – about a furlong-and-a-half shy of two miles – takes some getting.

If horses run well in it and remain in training, then that can be a guide to stayers for future races like the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Ahead of the 2019 renewal, we assess who are St Leger contenders this year? Big names in Flat racehorse training are targeting it of course but surprise results can’t be ruled out.

Harbour Law took full advantage of odds-on favourite Idaho slipping up and unseating his rider back in 2016, beating subsequent Ebor Handicap hero Muntahaa by 10 lengths.

This is our detailed look at the main hopefuls for St Leger glory on Saturday, 14 September.

Logician leads St Leger contenders

John Gosden is having a terrific season with his runners and has trained the Leger winner four times in the past.

Since back-to-back successes in 2010 and 2011, however, the Newmarket handler has hit the crossbar more than once.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber owned filly Lah Ti Dar chased home Kew Gardens at Doncaster 12 months ago, while subsequent champion stayer Stradivarius was a close-up third the previous year.

Looking to go better than those is Logician who heads ante post betting and our list of 2019 St Leger contenders.

Owned by Khalid Abdullah, who took the race in 1991 with French trained colt Toulon, this son of Frankel is unbeaten in four career starts.

Logician has made rapid progress throughout this season, winning maiden and novice events at Newbury and Newmarket before returning to the former venue for a spin in handicap company.

As he ran out an easy winner off top-weight, connections stepped him up in class for the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at the Ebor Festival in York.

Logician leaped to Leger favouritism with a strong showing on the Knavesmire but how solid is the form? The Voltigeur is usually a useful Classic trial to consider.

Last year’s race looked a far stronger renewal, however, with three subsequent Group/Grade 1 winners filling the frame in Old Persian, Cross Counter and Kew Gardens.

Another Classic trial run at York, the Group 2 Dante Stakes prior to the Epsom Derby, didn’t work out. The best horse, subsequent dual Group 1 winner Japan, was fourth.

While Logician doesn’t look as though he has anything to fear from re-opposing Voltigeur horses in the St Leger itself and should improve again, other rivals may have kept their powder dry.

Sir Dragonet shaping like a stayer

Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien has run three or more horses at Doncaster in each of the last three seasons, so expect multiple raiders from the Emerald Isle again.

That means sifting through many O’Brien horses to find St Leger contenders. They no longer include Epsom and Irish Derby winners Anthony Van Dyck and Sovereign, who both forfeited early-closing entries.

Japan has a real touch of class about him and, after dropping back in trip to land the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York, looks bound for Irish Champions Weekend and the Arc at Longchamp.

One of the few from Ballydoyle to have won over further than a mile-and-a-half is Sir Dragonet.

O’Brien has scooped the St Leger six times before and some of those previous victors – like Kew Gardens last year – finished down the field in the Epsom Derby.

Sir Dragonet was unraced as a juvenile like Logician and is thus open to more progress than some of his stable companions.

The Chester Vase winner was far from disgraced when a close-up fifth at Epsom and beaten just three-quarters of a length. That blanket Derby finish makes it hard to get a handle on this particular angle.

Dropping Sir Dragonet down in distance after a break last time out didn’t work. He isn’t an Irish Champion Stakes horse after lacking the foot to be effective over 10 furlongs.

That honour goes to Japan instead, who has emerged as the best middle-distance three-year-old from this year’s Ballydoyle crop.

It leaves the St Leger as the only place for Sir Dragonet to go next where the trip should suit.

Il Paradiso has proven stamina

Il Paradiso, meanwhile, has come out of the Irish Derby and proven his stamina when running well over two miles against the top British stayers.

He was getting plenty of weight-for-age from Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee in the Lonsdale Cup, but put up a career best effort at York when beaten just over a length and missing second by a nose.

In between that and the Irish Derby, Il Paradiso bolted up in a two-mile handicap at The Curragh. If BHA ratings are any indicator, then his rapid recent progress puts him among St Leger contenders.

After running off an opening mark of just 87 in the Irish Derby, Il Paradiso is now reckoned a two-stone better horse by the handicapper.

He is now rated the same as Logician but more than five times the price of the Leger favourite. Il Paradiso is a tough horse to assess, however.

Race terms were in his favour at York yet he wasn’t regarded as a serious contender. Is the St Leger an easier race than tackling the undisputed champion stayer in Stradivarius?

It probably is this year. Those defections among the Ballydoyle battalions have left O’Brien ranks thinned.

Classic disappointment Pink Dogwood and other less lauded stablemates remain in contention. Il Paradiso doesn’t have that question mark of staying against his name though.

Although yet another O’Brien trained horse in Constantinople has run well to finish second in both the Bahrain Trophy and Voltigeur, he never looked like winning either.

Failing to fire in the trials yet remaining among St Leger contenders, at times it looks like there’s almost too much choice at Ballydoyle.

Trial winners also St Leger contenders

Other British Leger trials winners are worth considering. Spanish Mission landed the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy at the July Festival in Newmarket for trainer David Simcock.

He was then narrowly beaten half-a-length under a penalty by Nayef Road in the similar grade Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

As with the Voltigeur, however, this year’s form of that particular race doesn’t look as strong as the previous season.

Subsequent international star and Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter took the Gordon ahead of Dee Ex Bee in 2018.

Nayef Road failed to follow-up on his victory when flopping in the Voltigeur and finishing last. Connections of Spanish Mission swerve the Leger in favour of running in a valuable prize in America.

With Nayef Road disappointing after Newmarket, a tougher Mark Johnston trained colt in Sir Ron Priestley may be the best chance of a rare local St Leger winner.

He’s two from two over 1m 6f after toughing it out on the front-end in the Group 3 March Stakes at Goodwood. Sir Ron Priestley won going away from progressive Gosden filly Promissory.

If the ground at Doncaster came up on soft, then that suits surprise Queen’s Vase winner Dashing Willoughby.

Since that Group 2 success at Royal Ascot, this Andrew Balding trained colt has been toughened up in open company.

While Dashing Willoughby finished out of the frame in both subsequent runs, he may strip better for them back against fellow three-year-olds in the St Leger.

Technician is another who showed he can handle cut when taking the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury for Martyn Meade.

After wearing down Morando, who previously beat 2018 Leger winner Kew Gardens, a Classic tilt beckons.