THE DONCASTER ST LEGER STAKES
Anthony St Leger was born in February 1731 at Grangemellon in County Kildare, the fourth son of Sir John St Leger who was a judge. He was educated at Eton College and Peterhouse, Cambridge, the oldest of the Cambridge colleges. At the age of 30 he married Margaret Wombwell in 1761 and they returned to her native Yorkshire in 1762 to live on the Park Hill Estate in Firbeck. After leaving the 124th Regiment of Foot, where he reached the post of Lieutenant-Colonel, he became MP for Grimsby between 1768 and 1774. He established his own oval racecourse on the Park Hill Estate on which he trained the racehorses he bred at his stud. In 1776 he, along with the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, established a race for 3 year olds over 2 miles to be run at Doncaster. Contested on Cantley Common for the first time on Tuesday 24th September 1776, and moved to its present location on Town Moor Doncaster just two years later, the St Leger is the oldest of the 5 Classic races. The idea of the name ‘St Leger Stakes’ was first muted at The Red Lion Inn in the Market Place, Doncaster in 1778 and was due to be called the Rockingham Stakes after the Marquess of Rockingham, but it was finally agreed that it should be named after Anthony St Leger of Park Hill.
It takes place each September and is run over 1 mile 6 furlongs and 115 yards. During the First World War, between 1915 and 1918, the race was staged at Newmarket over a mile and 6 furlongs of the Rowley Mile course when it was known as the September Stakes. Although the only year the race has not be held was in 1939 because of the outbreak of the Second World War, the race was transferred to Thirsk in 1940 when it was known as the Yorkshire St Leger; transferred to Manchester in 1941 when known as the New St Leger; between 1942 and 1944 it was transferred to Newmarket’s Summer Course when known as the New St Leger, and in 1945 it was staged at York when it was known as the St Leger Stakes. This site provides a comprehensive history of the St Leger; every winner, runner, owner, trainer and jockey and, where available, video clips of the majority of races run since the early 1900s. Every Classic winner has now been rated using times (the 1810 St Leger was one of the earliest occasions when a winner's time was provided), winning distances and strength of opposition. A very useful survey was carried out by the Sporting Times in May 1886 when 100 Jockey Club Members, owners, trainers, jockeys and tipsters were invited to list the top 10 racehorses. To see the results of that survey click here.
Note that the image shown opposite is of John Hayes St Leger, nephew of Colonel Anthony St Leger (1731 - 1786), and is in the public domain being by the artist Thomas Gainsborough who died in 1788.
Today the land and farm, that part of the Park Hill Estate which still remains, is owned by Mrs Julia Colver, although sadly the house was pulled down in 1935 and only the outbuildings remain. Park Hill (pictured above centre) started off as an Elizabethan farm house and then two Georgian wings were added. Anthony had a daughter who died young and an illegitimate son William, who was brought up by his mother in Ireland. He did well in the army. Anthony left his estate to John Hayes St Leger (pictured above left), but he died in India aged 30. He went to fight over there, but was ill when he arrived. Anthony St Leger ‘s close links with the Firbeck area are still remembered in a number of ways, not least the St Leger Arms in Laughton en le Morthen, (which is now closed and is a private residential home) 2 miles from Firbeck, the Park Hill Stakes which is still run at Doncaster, and the blue plaque displayed in Firbeck which Frankie Dettori unveiled in about 2012 (above right). A descendant, Julian St Leger, still owns half of the oval field, top centre on the map (above left, taken from a book by Moyà St Leger about the family history and the Classic race) sadly the estate was broken up, but it still remains an oval field. In Anthony's day it was a large estate and he owned more land at Laughton, a neighbouring village. There was a horse trough in the centre of the oval field, as well as a plaque of some description, but they have long since gone. Anthony St Leger died aged 55 on 19th April 1786 and is buried in Saint Anne’s church in Dublin.
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