The late Sir Henry Cecil, who died of cancer on June 11, 2013, at the age of 70, is best known as the trainer of Frankel, the highest rated horse in the history of Timeform and World Thoughbred Rankings, who retired, unbeaten in 14 races, in October, 2012. However, while Cecil, who was kinghted for services to horse racing in 2011, may have described Frankel as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen’, he was arguably one of the greatest trainers in history.
Unfortunately his career was overshadowed by controversy but, in his heyday, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, Cecil was Champion Trainer ten times. Overall, he saddled 25 British Classic winners and was particularly adept with fillies, winning the Oaks eight times, including with Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the 1,000 Guineas six times. He also won the Derby four times, including with British Horse of the Year, Reference Point, in 1987, the St. Leger four times and the 2,000 Guineas three times. Until June, 2018, when Poet’s Word, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Cecil also held the record for the most winners at Royal Ascot, having saddled 75 in his long, illustrious career.
The five English Classic races are, from oldest to youngest, the St. Leger, Oaks, Derby, 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. All five races have been in existence for over two centuries and each of them has thrown up its fair share of ‘shock’ winners, but none more so than Theodore who, in 1822, won the St. Leger at an eye-watering 200/1.
Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the St. Leger has also thrown up Encke at 25/1 in 2012 and Harbour Law at 22/1 in 2016. The fillies’ Classics, the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks, have also been won by two rank outsiders apiece, Homecoming Queen at 25/1 in 2012 and Billesdon Brook at 66/1 in 2018, in the case of the former, and Look Here at 33/1 in 2008 and Qualify at 50/1 in 2015, in the case of the latter. In recent years, though, the 2,000 Guineas has been the best English Classic for outsiders, producing Cockney Rebel at 25/1 in 2007, Mafki at 33/1 in 2010 and Night Of Thunder at 40/1 in 2014.
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.
In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.