Racing dreamed of either a Frankie Dettori victory swansong or royal winner of the 247th running of the Betfred St Leger, one of the oldest annually run sporting events in the world, but Bambi and his full-brother were both taken out in one clean shot by Aidan O’Brien who won it for a seventh time with 3-1 shot Continuous on Saturday.
The Ballydoyle colt, who could now be in a line for a crack at the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in a fortnight’s time, ran out a clear cut two and three quarter length winner over Dettori’s mount Arrest with Desert Hero, the King and Queen’s colt, half a length back in third without ever quite looking like a winner.
The presence of the King and Queen at Doncaster, where they had invited half a dozen Yorkshire trainers up to the hastily converted royal box, and where the King went on a walk-about to shake hands with racegoers around the paddock before the Classic, made it one of the most eagerly anticipated Legers in recent times.
But Desert Hero is best off a strong gallop. Yesterday that never quite happened for him and, like Aureole, the Queen’s first Leger runner in 1953, he finished third, no disgrace but no one was dipping into the humidor after it either.
Continuous wrapped the race up with a move up the top of the straight when Ryan Moore used his turn of foot and class to go from almost last to the front at the two furlong marker. After that all he had to do was keep going.
“They were always going half a stride slower than I wanted,” said royal jockey Tom Marquand. “But he slogged it out. It was fabulous to have the King and Queen here. I’ll leave decisions about the Melbourne Cup to others - it’s a different race on different ground, it’s not just a straight-forward decision about the trip. It’s been an enormous day - fantastic for racing.”
William Haggas, his trainer, said: “It’s brilliant the King and Queen have come. They were very excited and we’re all very happy. He needs a strong pace. We need to make a decision about Melbourne pretty quickly but he’s run with great credit and it’s been a good day all round. For me he’s a Hardwicke- King George horse for next year.”
Dettori briefly thought he would be going out on a winner until Moore ranged alongside him two out. “I got excited until I saw Ryan,” he explained. “I wanted to curse him but he’s such a good mate. It’s been a good journey (the Leger which he has won six times) but it wasn’t to be today. He’s getting better and he’ll be good next year. But that won’t be my problem!”
Winning the race for just the third time Moore said it was Continuous’s ‘great attitude and pace’ that won him the race. “He’s real genuine,” he said. “He was in front a long way out and he stayed but it was his turn of foot which got the race won for him.”
The Leger is one of the few races for which O’Brien does not hold the record number of wins as a trainer. Indeed he might never catch up Victorian era’s John Scott who landed it 16 times but we should know well enough now not to be sidetracked by what might be perceived as a ‘better’ story when he has one fancied for a Classic.
“Sorry for that,” he said apologising for the horses he kept out of the winner’s circle before talking about Continuous’s rise from Dante second in May to Voltigeur winner back at York in August.
“It’s fantastic to have Royal support and you could feel the buzz and see the passion and goodwill for them today. As for Frankie, he’s beaten us more times than I can tell you. I can’t wait for him to retire!”