Since the turn of the twenty-first century, no fewer than ten favourites – including Rule Of Law, who started joint-favourite in 2004 – have won the St. Leger. Ironically, the shortest-priced favourite in that period – and, in fact, the shortest-priced favourite since Reference Point in 1987 – Camelot failed to justify odds of 2/5 when beaten three-quarters of a length by 25/1 outsider Encke in 2012. Camelot was attempting to become the first horse since Nijinsky, in 1970, to win the Triple Crown, but ran below his best and was easily seen off in the closing stages.
To answer the question, though, the last favourite to win the St. Leger was Logician, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, in 2019. Hitherto unbeaten, the Frankel colt had little trouble justifying odds of 5/6, readily asserting in the closing stages to win by two and a quarter lengths. Logician subsequently received treatment for peritonitis – a potentially life-threatening infection of the stomach lining – but fully recovered and remains in training as a four-year-old.
Across the whole of horse racing, the fact that, on average, approximately one-third of favourites win or, conversely, approximately two-thirds of favourites lose, is well chronicled. However, the proportion of winning favourites varies widely according to the type of race being contested, the number of runners, the odds on offer and so on.
For example, it stands to reason that non-handicap races should produce a higher proportion of winning favourites than handicap races, in which every horse, theoretically, has an equal chance of winning; in fact, in non-handicap races, approximately two-fifths, or 40%, of favourites win. Similarly, it might be expected that the proportion of winning favourites is inversely proportional to the odds on offer and this is, in fact, the case; less than 23% of favourites sent off at 2/1 or longer win, but 45% of those starting at 15/8 or shorter do so, as do 86% of those starting at prohibitive odds of 1/4 or shorter.
Of course, the favourite in a horse race is the horse offered at the shortest odds by the bookmakers; if two, or more, horses share favouritism, they are referred to as joint-favourites, or co-favourites. In betting parlance, alternative terms for the favourite in a horse race include ‘jolly’, ‘chalk’ and ‘sponk’. ‘Jolly’ is simply derived from the phrase ‘jolly old favourite’. ‘Chalk’ dates from the days when bookmakers wrote, and rewrote, odds on a blackboard; if a favourite attracted money, its odds needed to be erased and rewritten over and over again, clouding the blackboard with chalk dust. ‘Sponk’ is British public school slang for ‘infatuated’ dating from the Forties; the term apparently became obsolete by the late Sixties, but still occurs, in the same sense, in horse racing circles. Of course, not all favourites win; a favourite considered unworthy of heading the betting market, for whatever reason, may be referred to simply as a ‘false favourite’ or, colloquially, as a ‘Bismarck’, after the German battleship scuttled off the coast of France during World War II.
At the time of writing, the 2021 Grand National is still over twelve months away so, frankly, whether or not Tiger Roll will attempt to become the first horse to record a hat-trick in the Aintree marathon in 2021 is anybody’s guess. Of course, Tiger Roll was ante-post favourite, at 8/1 or thereabouts, for the 2020 Grand National prior to its cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic, but can be backed at 20/1 for the 2021 renewal.
Nevertheless, trainer Gordon Elliott has already said that there is ‘every chance’ of Tiger Roll running in the Grand National in 2021. He is, after all, still only a ten-year-old – which means that he will be the same age as recent National winners Pineau De Re, Auroras Encore and Neptune Collonges by the time next April rolls around – and, granted that he has been restricted to just eleven starts in the last three National Hunt seasons, has hardly been overraced.
Of course, owner Michael O’Leary announced, shortly after winning the Grand National for a second time with Tiger Roll, and the third time in all, in 2019, that he would be winding down his Gigginstown House Stud operation over the next four or five years. Even so, Tiger Roll has time on his side so, who knows, he may yet attempt to achieve racing immortality.