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SPORTS STORY

A pattern emerges

The St Leger’s previous winners reveal some rather obvious trends. Angus Loughran extols the virtues of knowing your history when trying to predict the future

The flat season may be drawing to a close in September but one of my personal highlights of the year is contested this month – the Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes.

Britain’s oldest Classic is now 234 years young and while the prestige of the race has declined somewhat in recent years, the 1m6f trip is still the ultimate stamina test for three-year-olds. While a lot of trainers now bypass the Doncaster showpiece in favour of more lucrative races such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Irish Champion Stakes, the pantheon of winners can rival any contest in the world. Nijinsky (1970), Oh So Sharp (1985) and Reference Point (1987) have all taken this prize in the past, meaning that the winning horse of 2010 will be in esteemed company.

And where is this year’s winner likely to come from? Well the first place to start when assessing a modern Leger field has to be Godolphin. The Boys in Blue have won an impressive five of the last 15 renewals, including last year in the shape of Mastery. In fact, Kite Wood followed him home to make it a 1-2! This record is even more impressive when you consider that the yard have only had nine runners in the race since 1995 – so their strike rate is actually a staggering 55% in that time. It goes without saying, then, that any of their stable’s runners should be taken very seriously. Aidan O’Brien also has a predictably strong record, having won three times in the last nine years, and followers of jockeys could do a lot worse than backing Frankie Dettori’s mount – the little Italian has won three of the last five renewals and five in total.

Another key betting trend that punters should heed is the fantastic record of favourites. This is a long standing positive that stretches back over two decades – since 1983, the jolly has taken the honours in 17 of the last 27 renewals (almost 63%) and amazingly they have only been unplaced twice in this entire period. Having said this, the trend does appear to be declining in importance as no favourite since Sixties Icon in 2006 has made it to the winner’s enclosure.

Followers of prep races will be well aware that York’s Great Voltigeur Stakes and Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes provide the bulk of modern Leger winners. In fact, these two races have produced nine of the last 10 champions, while only one horse in the last decade (Scorpion, 2005) wasn’t at least placed in one of these contests. Of the two, the Great Voltiguer is probably the better guide as six of the last 10 winners finished at least third there, including last year’s winner Mastery who was runner-up in the Group 2.

As for future betting, six of the last nine Leger winners have gone on to run again that season with decidedly mixed results. Three have taken their chance in the Arc, with none finishing higher than fifth, but those that go to North America seem to enjoy better success. Conduit (2008) went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, Milan (2001) was runner-up in that contest while last year Mastery managed third in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. So on past form it’s worth swerving the winner in the Arc but keep a close eye if they head to America.

At the time of writing it looks like being another shoot-out between Godolphin and Ballydoyle – the former are looking to Derby third Rewilding, while the latter have both the Irish Derby winner and runner-up in Midas Touch and Cape Blanco.

But Doncaster isn’t the only venue for top-class racing in September – we’ve also got the three-day Ascot Festival to get stuck into later in the month. Many of the races can have a major influence on big ante-post markets, particularly the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile, which heavily affects the 1,000 Guineas make-up. Three of last year’s top four went on to compete at Newmarket and their Classic price usually shrinks on the back of a good performance here. The winner also gets an automatic invitation to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf so be sure to keep an eye on that ante-post market as well. John Gosden has a good record, having won three of the last six renewals, while Henry Cecil is the most successful trainer of all-time having won on four occasions.

Another highlight of the festival is the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, where the top three-year-old milers lock horns with the older generation. It’s the younger horses that have had the upper hand in recent years, claiming 17 of the last 25 runnings, including Aidan O’Brien’s top-class Rip van Winkle in 2009. The Group 1 is also part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series – the winner of this contest is automatically entered for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, though this has only been the case since 2008 and the two winners to date have decided to go for the Breeders’ Cup Classic instead.

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