St. Leger Festival | Desert Hero Eyes Royal Glory

St Leger, Desert Crown, Royal

So we’re under way for St. Leger week at Doncaster.

As flat racing festival season comes to a conclusion, Saturday’s main event sees the final classic of 2023, the St. Leger Stakes.

Now approaching its 150th anniversary, the greats of thoroughbred racing boast wins in this race; Nijinsky, Conduit and last year, Eldar Eldarov took the winning post.

However, just once in the post-war era has a royal winner been crowned in the shape of Dunfermline way, way back when Willie Carson rode to glory in 1977.

Some 46 years on, could Desert Hero be about to change all that?

Ascot majesty

Winding back the clock three months to a baked Royal Ascot, one of the highlights of the week saw Desert Hero and Valiant King complete a famous royal 1-2 in the King George V Stakes.

The first Royal winner since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the win was equally special with King Charles in attendance.

Having backed up a memorable Royal meet with the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last month, Desert Hero now makes the step up in both class and trip.

Not only will the St. Leger be the colt’s first Group 1 outing, the 3yo travels over 1m4f for for the first time.

This really is a litmus test for the 3yo, but having won three of the last four races since October, Desert Hero has real chances with Tom Marquand on board.


A classic Dettori swansong?

Standing in the way of what would be a momentous win for trainer William Haggas, lies a certain Frankie Dettori.

Widely expected to jump on Gregory for the Leger, it is Arrest who gets the nod, perhaps due to expected tackier ground in Donny this weekend.

Regardless, this is the veteran’s final festival appearance after a storied 35-year career, and Dettori has already enjoyed Group 1 and classics success this year.

After one more 2000 Guineas winner in his former adopted home of Newmarket on Chaldean, victory followed in the shape of Courage Mon Ami in the Ascot Gold Cup.

Dettori was denied a Derby farewell in flaming June, but further Group 1 success came in the Queens Vase – on the shunned Gregory.

Drawing an elite blank at Glorious Goodwood, the Italian again stormed back to win the Juddmonte on Mostahdaf.

Seeking a remarkable 24th winner on Saturday, Dettori most recently tasted St. Leger victory with Logician four years back.


The pretenders

Come late Saturday afternoon, the 2023 edition of the classics will be written, but who will etch their name into the final chapter?

Mawj, Soul Sister, Auguste Rodin followed in the footsteps of Chaldean with a classic win and if Arrest obliges also, Dettori will have bagged three classics as his final swansong.

In recent days, Aidan O’Brien has seen a Continuous 11/4 antepost move for his strong hope, but is currently back to around 4/1.

Winner of the Voltigeur at Ebor, the colt also boasts a runner-up from the King Edward Stakes in June.

Perhaps going against him will be the ground – unlikely to anything close to his four outings this term – but with that said, Continuous does have a French win in the wet to fall back on.

O’Brien’s other three in the race, Tower of London, Alexandroupolis and Denmark, although friendless in the markets, could all see nibbles.

Whilst the King of Ballydoyle has four entries, John and Thady Gosden have two others chances, and a scorned Gregory might have a thing to say with Kieran Shoemark in tow.

Indeed, the 3yo’s only loss in four was last time out, albeit to Continuous.

Dettori might be the romantics favourite come Saturday, but short of a poetic send-off from Doncaster for Frankie, Desert Hero would likely grab the bigger headlines with victory.

Racing history beckons.


The Betfred St. Leger Stakes takes place over 1m6½f on Saturday at 15:35.

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