Archive for 2015

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – Racing Post

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The Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead’s review of

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015


Oaks Stakes book review - Lee Mottershead

To order, go to or phone 01933 304858

To see more of Michael’s books visit Books for Sale


The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – The Irish Field

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The Irish Field   24 October 2015 Leo Powell

A classic in every sense

IT might be unusual to see a book review in a breeding column, but this is no ordinary book. In a few pages more than the number of years that the race has been run, the noted Michael Church has produced one of the most valuable tomes to hit the bookshelves this year.

Limited to just 650 copies, the publication is the history of the Oaks at Epsom, a race that pre-dates the Derby by a year and was influential in having the Epsom centrepiece upped in Oaks book cover 1trip from a mile to its now classic trip of a mile and half.

Up to the minute and including details of the 2015 winner Qualify, The Oaks Stakes recounts the history, the details and the breeding of the 238 winners (the result was a dead-heat on one occasion) since the first race was run in 1779.

There are extended essays on the major influences to have triumphed in the classic, such as Pretty Polly, together with wonderful pen pictures of the major people associated with the winners of the race. There is an eclectic listing of records, many suitable for the most ardent anoraks, and a most valuable index.

Michael Church is not one of the most revered racing historians for nothing, and attention to such detail can be assumed. From Bridget in 1779 to Qualify this year, we have seen some exceptional racemares land the Oaks, and many have then gone on to establish their own histories as the progenitors of some of the best racehorses in the intervening almost two and half centuries.

Priced at £70, this is not a cheap book, but then how do you put a value on a book that is priceless? This will solve your Christmas, birthday or any special occasion shopping in one fell swoop.

With just 650 copies available it will sell out, so best to get your order in now. Every serious breeder or student of breeding should have a copy.


To order, go to or phone 01933 304858



To see more of Michael’s books visit Books for Sale


The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – Daily Telegraph

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Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph reviews

Michael’s latest book – The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015


Oaks book review - Daily Telegraph - Copy aOaks book review - Daily Telegraph - Copy bOaks book review - Daily Telegraph - Copy (2)

To order Michael’s book go to

or telephone 01933 304 858

The Oaks Stakes 1779-2015 – London Racing Club

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The Oaks Stakes: The History – The Winners—Their Breeding 1779-2015

Reviewed by Mike Deasy of the London Racing Club



We talk to Michael Church about his new history of the Oaks

Whilst there’s a huge library of books chronicling the history of the turf, there’s been one standout omission – a history of the 237 year-old Oaks. That, however, is about to change with the imminent publication of racing historian Michael Church’s The Oaks Stakes: The History – The Winners—Their Breeding 1779-2015.

Its 256 pages include a comprehensive history of the race, its foundation, the results, all the winners and their breeding.

“Surprising as it is, no one had written a detailed history of the Oaks” says Michael. “I therefore raised the subject with Julian Brown at Raceform, who after consultation, said, ‘We would consider the history of the Oaks as a limited edition, say, about half the size of your Derby tome.’

Oaks book cover 1“And so, here it is – the earlier winners are two to a page (to keep down the pagination), but still with their pedigree, produce and the exploits of their sire and dam.

“The later winners have a full page, with times, distances, SPs and the innovation of a race commentary. In addition to the illustrations, there are pen pictures of the famous connections – owners, trainers and jockeys, together with essays on the more famous winners. To round off, as with my previous books, there are analyses tables, a range of records and full indices.

“By using, among others, past volumes of the Racing Calendar, the General Stud-Book and my Dams of Classic Winners and Classic Pedigrees, I was able to condense as much consistent information that could be produced in both half pages for the earlier years and full pages from 1916.”

Michael estimates that undertaking the research and writing the book amounted to just over one day for every year of the Oaks’ history.

“It took about 300 days, working every day except Oaks Day, Derby Day and Christmas Day

“The surprise to me was the pleasure I gained from researching and compiling the

race commentaries – a new feature in my turf histories.”


That investment in time and effort has already earned the praise of the doyen of bloodstock writers Tony Morris, saying:

“This is a classic account of Epsom’s other classic. For it is the Oaks, more than any other race, which identifies the special filly who may earn the right to challenge the colts and sometimes put them in their place.”


In personal terms, there are two standout Oaks which Michael has witnessed. “I would find it very difficult to split Petite Etoile (1959), cruising to victory, with Lester Piggott aboard and Noblesse (1963), showing devastating class to win by 10 lengths.”



Published by Raceform, The Oaks Stakes: The History – The Winners—Their Breeding 1779-2015, is a limited edition of 650 copies, numbered and signed by the author.


Priced at £65 + £5 p&p, the book, size A5,  is presented in a strong luxury binding, gold-blocked cover, with  head and tail bands, ribbon marker and, all edges gilt.

All together a fine collectors book


Available now, online from

or by calling : 01933 304 858.


To see more of Michael’s books visit Books for Sale


Fred Archer’s Royal Ascot record in 1878

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Fred Archer’s Royal Ascot record

in 1878 – 12 wins from 24 mounts


Fred Archer 2


Much was made of Ryan Moore’s modern day record of nine winners from 28 rides at Royal Ascot.

However, since Fred Archer holds the record with 12 wins from 24 rides it is worth unearthing his brilliant achievement in 1878.

Ascot was then a four-day meeting.

On the Tuesday, he rode one winner from seven rides – Garswood 4-9 fav in a Post Sweepstake.

On Wednesday, he rode five winners from six mounts: Lady Lumley 5-4 fav  in the Fern Hill Stakes; Julius Caesar 10-1, top weight (5y-8st-6lb) in the Royal Hunt Cup; Redwing 8-1 in the Coronation Stakes; Muley Edris 9-4 in the Triennial Stakes and Sonsie Queen 9-2 in the Ascot Biennial Stakes.

On the Thursday, he rode three winners from six mounts: Lord Clive 1-3 fav in the New Biennial Stakes; Trappist 2-5 fav in the All-aged Stakes and Petrarch 5-4 fav in the Rous Memorial Stakes.

On Friday, the final day, he rode another three winners from five mounts: Out of Bounds 5-6 fav in the Maiden Plate; Trappist 7-1, top weight (6y-9st-10lb) in the Wokingham Stakes and Jannette 4-7 fav in a Triennial Stakes.


In contrast to today, Trappist‘s 9st 10lb in the Wokingham, gave 20lb to the next highest and 59lb to the bottom weights on 5st 7lb, in a field of 24. The distances were 3/4 length and a bad third.


For those who would like to know more of Fred Archer,

I have set out below a short biography.



Frederick James Archer (1857-1886), known as ‘The Tinman’, due to his fondness for cash, was the greatest jockey of his generation. Such was his popular acclaim, that London cab drivers would hail each other with “Archers up,” to show all was well.

Fred was born at St Georges Cottage, Cheltenham on 11th January, 1857.

His father, William Archer, was a successful N.H. jockey, and won the Grand National on Little Charlie, the year after Fred was born. At the age of 11, Fred signed apprentice indentures to Mathew Dawson at Heath House, in Newmarket. It was there he learned his trade, and weighing only 4st. 1lb, he partnered all the stables lightweights in handicaps. Eventually, when he grew tall, he would rap his legs around the horse, squeezing him for the final drive. Powerful in a finish, he was rarely beaten and used the whip unsparingly.


Between 1874 and his death he notched 21 British Classics, including four in the Oaks: Spinaway (1875), Jannette (1878), Lonely (1885), and Wheel of Fortune (1879), who he swore was the best filly he ever rode. He also rode five winners of the Derby: Silvio (1877), Bend Or (1880), Iroquois (1881), Melton (1885) and Ormonde (1886), the greatest horse of the 19th century.


During this time his weight rose from 6st 2lb to 9st 1lb, so causing him to endure lengthy periods of wasting. After losing the Cambridgeshire by a head, when putting up a pound overweight and running a fever, he shot himself in a fit of depression on Monday 8th November, 1886, He was 29 years of age.


Archer was Champion jockey for 13 consecutive years to 1886 and rode a total 2,748 winners, including 246 in 1885. His lifetime ratio of winners to mounts exceeded 34%, although in 1881 and 1884 it exceeded 41%.


   His obituary stated: Backers have lost the best friend they ever had”.

2015 Investec Derby Day

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Frankie’s Horn of Plenty


 DSC_0798 - Copy


On a sunny day, with a crowd of 125,000 and in the presence of the Queen and Prince Philip, the scene was set for a perfect Derby Day.

Of all the traditional trials, the Dante Stakes at York seemed to hold the key; Golden Horn finishing strongly to beat Jack Hobbs and Elm Park, with all three going to Epsom’s Breakfast with the Stars to breeze round and show all was well.

However, there were many who doubted Golden Horn’s ability to stay another 300 yards. His pedigree being full of mile-to-a mile and a quarter horses. While his owner, Anthony Oppenheimer, still uncertain, needed to be convinced by trainer, John Gosden, before paying the £75,000 supplement to enter. But none need have worried. Jig-jogging along the inside rail down to the start, Frankie Dettori settled him beautifully and when he arrived at the start, he was ready to go on Good to Firm ground.

Aidan O’Brien, having trained the last three winners of the Derby had three entries, Giovanni Canaletto, a full brother to Ruler Of The World, being the most fancied, with Hans Holbein (Chester Vase) and Kilimanjaro (Lingfield Derby Trial) making up the team.


The field of 12 on their way, Elm Park took them along from Hans Holbein, Storm The Stars and Jack Hobbs. After three furlongs, Hans Holbein (rails) and Elm Park took each other on and drew eight lengths clear of Storm The Stars, Epicuris and Jack Hobbs.

On reaching the highest point, Hans Holbein pressed on to a four-length lead from Elm Park and Epicuris, with Golden Horn tucked in at the back of the field in ninth.

The order remained unchanged around Tattenham Corner, but into the straight, Dettori brought Golden Horn up the outside to begin his challenge. A furlong later, with the leaders five-wide, across the course, Jack Hobbs shot to the front. Seconds later, Golden Horn swept past Jack Hobbs, who edging left with the camber, was followed over by Golden Horn, who stormed home to win by 3½ lengths. Storm The Stars kept on for third, a further 4½ lengths away. The time, 2 min 32.32 sec, was the third fastest in the history of the race, behind those of Workforce (2 min 31.33 sec in 2010) and Lammtarra (2 min 32.31 sec in 1995).


John Gosden, who trained the first two home, previously trained Benny The Dip to win the race in 1997. His wife, Rachel Hood, retained a 37.5 per cent share in Jack Hobbs, with two friends keeping 6.25 per cent each, after Sheikh Mohammed purchased a 50 per cent share after the Dante Stakes.

Frankie Dettori, who lit up the afternoon with hugs and kisses to all in the winners enclosure, had last won the race in 2007 on Authorized.

The sire of the winner, Cape Cross, had previously sired Sea The Stars to win the Derby in 2009 and Ouija Board, the Oaks in 2004. He currently stands at Kildangan Stud in Ireland at E20,000.



 The result of the race in the style of my two histories of the Derby follows

Derby Stakes 2015 Result

To see a selection of Michael’s own books for sale

go to Books for Sale at the top of the page.



Racing Post Review

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Racing Post Review


A few days ago, Racing Post wrote a review of the new Epsom Derby website

To read my essays in the History section referred to below, click first on Derby Day and then on History.

A copy of the review, published on Sunday, 24 May, follows.


Racing Post's Epsom Derby website review

The first Derby photo-finish

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The first Derby photo-finish

1949 Derby photo-finish

The first photo-finish for the Epsom Derby was in 1949.

The race was the focal point of the racing year and I was determined to be there.

Here follows an account of that day from the tales of my misspent youth.


“Are you going to the Derby next Saturday, Michael?”  Don called across the smoke filled snooker room.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” I retorted, breaking off from lining up a red.

“I’ve got space in the old Humber,” Don added graciously. “I’ve just asked your Dad; he says it’s OK if I keep an eye on you.”

“Sounds super,” I replied, “much better than getting the coach.”


Just then, Master of Ceremonies, Bernie Stevens rang his bell, calling everyone back for the second half of the Whist Drive.  This was Woking’s ambiguously named Railway Athletic Club, where, in these pre-bingo days of 1949, their Saturday night big-money drive was, along with the Atalanta ballroom, one of the two hot spots in Woking.  My Father, Mother and Nan obviously preferred the Whist Drives: jitterbugging was never their strong suit, where as playing cards was as much a part of their life as queuing at the Co-op.


The Whist over, I got the Derby details from Don – pick up opposite the Railway Station, 10 o’clock sharp. Vicky, his fancy woman, (as Mum called her, among other things) and the Giant, were to be the two other passengers.


At this point, I must fill you in on my fellow travellers.  Don was an ex-Guardsman, handsome, middle-aged and dashing. Vicky was four feet something, 40 going on 20, full of fun and covered in jewellery.  Both were divorced and lived together in digs – this in the late 1940s was not only risque, but gave them a touch of celebrity.  The Giant on the other hand was grotesque. Seven feet tall, and in his younger days a sparing partner to Primo Carnera, the 18½ stone Italian, who later became the World Heavyweight Champion. But now, bent almost double with arthritis, his face bore the scars of his profession and he was often referred to as Boris, after Boris Karloff of Frankenstein fame.


In spite of the journey being only 17 miles, it took us almost two hours to get to Epsom, and another half hour to park, this with every road jammed and crowd estimates of half a million people covering the Downs.  Boris, for reasons of convenience, went straight into Tattersall’s, where he would sit high up on the steep terraced steps to watch the afternoon’s events, while Don, Vicky and I sallied around the funfair.


Don was drawn towards the rifle range where, after examining and changing his rifle, he hit four consecutive clay pipes.  Vicky was delighted and so was I, although I respectfully declined the privilege of carrying the prize of a very large stuffed donkey around with me for the rest of the afternoon.  We then had a go at the coconut shies, hoopla and rolling pennies down a shoot, but nothing doing.  Vicky insisted that we all went on the Chairaplanes – rows of swings that rotated at speed.  Don said that he and Neddy preferred to sit this one out, but asked me to accompany Vicky.

Once the wheel got up speed, all the chair-swings fanned out over the crowd; Vicky was shrieking and waving down at Don, but to me, it was terrifying.  I seemed to remember reading about a young boy who had been flung off at a fair and killed.  “What a way to go!” I thought, “and on Derby Day.”  Eventually, when all the swings returned peacefully, Vicky was still in a state of high excitement, and bought us each a stick of candy floss.

“You look a bit pale Michael,” she said mischievously. I tried to grin, but felt as if I had passed through a near-death experience.


As we moved through the crowds, we saw an escapologist at work, an elderly man, thin but wiry looking.  He was wrapped in chains, handcuffed and then put in a canvas sack, which was then padlocked.  We watched and waited.  From time to time we saw the sack wriggle about as crowds pressed in on all sides and the barker entertained the crowd with details of The Great Murcurio’s past feats.  Then, slowly, a hush fell over the crowd, the sack was still.  People began to murmur their concern; one woman shouted across to the barker,

“You’ve killed the poor old bugger, you rotten sod.”

To allay everyone’s fears, he went over to the sack and shouted,

“Is The Great Murcurio all right in there?”

There was no reply. The woman shouted out again, “Now you’ve done it, you rotten bugger, you’ve killed him, and all for a few bob.”


Don dashed off to find a Red Cross man, but no sooner had he gone, than the sack started to wriggle again.  The barker wiped the sweat from his brow and by now the onlookers were pleading with him to open the sack. Then, as he removed the padlock, the old man sprang out of the sack like a jack-in-the-box.  There was much cheering and great relief all around.  Needless to say, the barker’s collection yielded a shower of silver and not a few ten-bob notes.  When Don did get back, he said the Red Cross had been called every half-hour since nine this morning with the same story!


Vicky looked at her watch; it was one o’clock. The first race was in half-an-hour, so we scuttled off to squeeze into the old Stewards’ Stand opposite the main grandstand.  Although you looked head-on down the course, it was a great place to watch the race from, and by now we were all pleased the enclosure had its own toilets.


Don and I were Gordon Richard’s fans, but Vicky just went by the horses’ names.  Saucy Boy, ridden by an apprentice, caught her eye, and it caught the judge’s eye too, romping home at 6-1, while Don and I searched in vain for Gordon at the tail end of the field.


In the next race, another five-furlong sprint, Gordon rode the Aga Khan’s Malindi, which Don and I both backed, in spite of the odds-on Lightning Sketch.  When I say we both backed, in reality it was Don who put the money on, as a skimpy 13-year-old would have been, rightly or wrongly, turned away.  Anyway, Malindi won at 7-2, with the favourite finishing last of five.


There was now an hour before the big race, the sun was shinning, there was just a slight breeze, and then as now, there is no finer place to be than on Epsom Downs on Derby Day.


In order to see the parade, we squeezed in on the terraced steps as the 32 runners filed before us.  To make the most of this occasion, I had painted their colours in a little notebook, as racecards of the day were printed in black and white and had no pictures.


Having had an ante-post bet on Lord Derby’s Swallow Tail after he had won the Chester Vase, I was content to have a saver on Gordon, who was riding the 9-2 favourite Royal Forest.  Don also backed Royal Forest, but Vicky, being an admirer of the glamorous Suzy Volterra, backed her husband’s horse, Amour Drake.  Also fancied was the Two Thousand Guineas winner, Nimbus, owned by Mrs Marion Glenister and ridden by Charlie Elliott.


Unable to get to the top of the terraces, we got our first glimpse of the race as the runners came around Tattenham Corner. Nimbus and Swallow Tail were clear.  Inside the final furlong, Swallow Tail gained the advantage. But Nimbus, on the rails, gamely fought back, before tiring and drifting across towards the stands, taking Swallow Tail with him.  Meanwhile, Amour Drake, having been 10 lengths adrift earlier in the straight, came storming up the centre of the course on to the heels of the front two.  His jockey, Rae Johnstone, finding his path blocked, had to switch Amour Drake to the rails, losing both ground and momentum.  A desperate battle ensued over the last 50 yards with all three contenders crossing the line together.  “Photograph, photograph,” it was to be the first in the history of the Derby.


I was sure Nimbus had won, but many around me thought Amour Drake had; further down the terraces, would be those who thought Swallow Tail had held on.  And although the race was over and I had lost my bets, I immediately saw an opportunity of making a profit on the Derby.  Urgently, I persuaded Don, another man of chance, to walk ahead of me along the first two rows of the terraces to call out, “I’ll lay evens Amour Drake and 3-1 Swallow Tail.”

Those around us were keen to hedge their bets and some were confident of their eyes.  As Don took the money, so I wrote the bets in my note book, adding the punters’ names, for we had no tickets to give out.  The result of the photo took so long that Don took about two dozen bets, mostly pound notes.

“I hope you’re sure about this Michael,” said Don, realising we might not have enough money to pay out if I’d got it wrong.


I didn’t have to answer; suddenly the result frame was being hoisted up, and at the top was number 13, Nimbus; 26 Amour Drake was second and Swallow Tail third.


1949 Derby photo-finish


“How much have we won?”  I said excitedly.

“Well done,” replied Don, “I was beginning to get worried; it took so long.”

“How much,” I persisted.

Don gave way and emptied his pockets.

“Twenty-two pounds. How do you want to split it?” he said.

I paused, “How about a tenner each, and two quid for a slap-up supper?”


Soon a rumbling roar went up over the Downs, as various sections of the crowd were relayed the result.

I tugged on Don’s sleeve: “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here, in case someone has reported us to the ring inspector.”

Fortunately, many others were leaving the enclosure at the same time, so our exit was not conspicuous. Very soon, my 13-year-old brain was buzzing with the potential betting opportunities surrounding this new technology.  What a wonderful thing this photo-finish is!


We decided to join the Giant and, in spite of the gateman’s reservations, Vicky and her donkey charmed us through the entrance.  It was more crowded than the enclosure we had left, but we knew roughly where the Giant would be and he wasn’t difficult to spot. Vicky saw him first, towering above the rest, eating a tiny ice cream cone like a big kid. I’m sure, if he had wanted to, he could have held a dozen cones in one hand.

“Back any winners Boris?” Don asked, as the runners went down for the next.

“Not yet Don, but you’ve just missed the sight of the afternoon – Rita Hayworth.”

Vicky was all ears.

“You know she married Prince Aly Khan earlier this year? Well, he bought her a horse as a wedding present – But Beautiful – it’s running in the next. I watched her walk down the line of bookmakers; everyone was speechless, not a word and, no-one struck a bet.”

“Well someone’s backed it,” I said. “It’s showing odds of 4-7 now.”


A minute later, But Beautiful and the Duchess of Norfolk’s Suivi headed the field at the furlong marker and, after a thrilling finish, passed the post together – another photo finish.  Not so long to wait this time; first Suivi.  We decided to stay put for the rest of the afternoon, sitting on the terraced steps.  Favourites won both the last two races, with ‘Last race Cook,’ living up to his monicker and coasting home four lengths ahead of Doug Smith.

There were many unseen dramas that followed that afternoon, some we heard of in days, others months and one, over three years later, when Mr Henry Glenister committed suicide in his car in Sussex.  Glenister was an employee of the Midland Bank when he paid 5,000 guineas (equal to £190,000 today) for Nimbus as a yearling, as a present to his wife.  Later, the inquest revealed that Glenister had defaulted on ‘a considerable sum’, although the extent of the fraud was never made public.


A more poignant end had taken place the day after the Derby, when Suzy Volterra returned to her dying husband in Paris.  Leon, whose health had suffered during wartime internment by the Germans, had been too ill to listen to the broadcast, and so, before his death, his wife allowed him to think his colt Amour Drake had won the Derby.

1949 Derby racecard Nimbus

This account of the 1949 Derby

comes from Michael’s book of short stories

Born To Bet

To see more of Michael’s books go to Books For Sale

Pommern – winner of the 1915 Triple Crown

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Pommern – winner of the 1915 Triple Crown

POMMERN 1915 - pic

 One hundred years ago and a year into the First World War, all the Classics were run at Newmarket.

In the Two Thousand Guineas, Pommern, a bay colt by Polymelus out of Merry Agnes, gave Steve Donoghue his first of 14 Classic winning rides.

Here follows the essay and Pommern’s race record taken from my book The Classic Pedigree 1776 – 1989. 

POMMERN 1915 - words

POMMERN 1915 - races

The First Grand National?

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The First Grand National?

The first Aintree steeplechase, run on 29 February 1836, under the title,

The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, was won by The Duke (see below)

and ridden by the famous Captain Martin Becher.

Grand Nat 1836-37 The Duke


The same year saw the inaugural hare coursing classic, the Waterloo Cup, run at Altcar, both events being organised by a local  landlord, William Lynn of the Waterloo Hotel. Lynn having previously introduced Flat Racing to Aintree in 1829,  on land leased from the 2nd Earl of Sefton.

The 1837 and 1838 renewals of The Grand Liverpool Steeplechase, were until recent years, thought to be run at the then nearby, Maghull racecourse. However, records taken from Chris Pitt’s authoritative book, A Long Time Gone, show that racecourse ran its final meeting on 16 May 1834. Further evidence found, suggest that the 1837 race, won again by The Duke, and the 1838 race, won by Sir William, were both run  over the original Aintree course and as such were credited as Grand National’s well into the 1860s.

Latterly, however, due to the races supposedly run at Maghull, together with the 1839 renewal, renamed The Grand National, the authorities proclaimed the first race as 1839, with the aptly named winner, Lottery. 


Grand Nat - 1839 Lottery


Recent requests from published historians (including the famous Aintree historian, John Pinfold), to restore the earlier races to the record books have so far been declined.

For my part, in parallel, may I remind both historians and the Aintree authorities, that the so called St Leger Stakes, was run at Cantley Common as

“a sweepstakes” from 1776-1777, before becoming the St Leger. And those two earlier races have long been accepted as St Leger’s, thus making it the oldest of our five Classic races.


Putting that aside, in a few days time, in every street, in every village and in every town, people will be looking at the runners for their annual each way bet on the greatest steeplechase in the world – a race watched on TV, around the world, by over 500 million people in 140 countries.

Let us enjoy this and play our part in continuing its wonderful history.