St Leger - At The Races

Mike Cattermole's five favourite St Legers

    ATR presenter Mike Cattermole is again commentating on the William Hill St Leger this year and here he recalls his top five renewals of the world’s oldest Classic.

1980 LIGHT CAVALRY

I was a massive Joe Mercer fan and drew a lot of pleasure at him being crowned champion jockey for the first time in 1979.

Towards the end of the following season, it was clear that in 1981 the newly available Lester Piggott was going to replace Joe as stable jockey at Henry Cecil’s Warren Place Stables. So, I was willing Joe to end his association with the Cecil yard with a Classic winner and Light Cavalry looked just the type for Doncaster.

I didn’t even see the race as, post A-levels, I was travelling around Europe with a friend at the time. There was no social media around in those days of course and I only found out what had happened the following Monday when we were in Greece and I managed to buy an English Sunday newspaper (always a day behind in those days).

I almost ripped it apart in my haste to get to the results section to find out that Light Cavalry had indeed won and won well.

It was right that Joe should have ridden him as he turned out to be Brigadier Gerard’s first – and last – Classic winner. He stayed in training as a four-year-old and although winning again under Lester, I recall Henry Cecil saying to me years later that he always thought that Joe suited Light Cavalry’s front-running style that bit better.

Race replay: Joe Mercer makes all aboard Light Cavalry and charges to Leger glory.

1984 COMMANCHE RUN

Lester Piggott won the St Leger eight times and this was the last of them.

The way he won this one was just typical Lester. Yes, he rode a brilliant race to keep Commanche Run in front as the Steve Cauthen-ridden Baynoun threw down a very strong challenge.

But there had been controversy before as Lester had jocked off Luca Cumani’s new stable jockey, the experienced American Darrel McHargue, to get on Commanche Run. Lester had had a word in the ear of his friend Ivan Allan, who owned the colt, and that was the end of McHargue riding at Doncaster.

I recall McHargue trying to make light of it by saying he was going to play tennis rather than watch the race but he must have been gutted. When Lester was asked afterwards whether he had anything to say about McHargue, he replied that he hoped it hadn’t rained during the American’s tennis match!

This desperate and ruthless will to win, both in and out of the saddle, was what Lester was all about and Commanche Run’s St Leger story not only typified this but enabled him to set a new British Classic record of 30.

Race replay: Commanche Run gamely stays on to give Lester Piggott his eighth Leger.

1985 OH SO SHARP

Oh So Sharp had had a long season by the time she lined up for the St Leger, as she attempted to become the first Fillies' Triple Crown winner since Meld in 1955.

She had scrambled home in the 1,000 Guineas in a brilliant finish with Al Bahathri and Bella Colora.

However, in the Oaks she was magnificent, thrashing Triptych by six lengths. How she was beaten by Petoski in the King George I will never know (Rainbow Quest was third) but it was a vintage Lester Piggott front-running performance on Commanche Run that was her undoing in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup at York.

Henry Cecil was at the height of his powers at this time, though, and worked his magic to keep just enough in the tank for Oh So Sharp to succeed at Town Moor in spite of fears that she was past her best.

What was so admirable about her was the way she battled at Doncaster under Steve Cauthen – she just wouldn’t lie down as she held off Phardante and her stablemate Lanfranco. What a brave filly she was.

Race replay: Oh So Sharp digs deep to seal the Fillies' Triple Crown.

2012 ENCKE

Forty-two years after Nijinsky, Camelot had the British Triple Crown more than in his sights as he lined up for the Leger as the 5-2 on favourite.

He had done so well to beat the milers in the 2,000 Guineas and was in a class of his own in the Derby as he surged home five lengths clear of (future multiple Grade 1 winner) Main Sequence.

This was the plan. He just had to show up, surely?

I was broadcasting for C4 Racing that day and there was a huge sense of expectation about what we were going to witness, although I recall my co-host Emma Spencer believing that Camelot wouldn’t do it. She laid him on the exchanges.

Indeed, Camelot got into a spot of bother as he was about to make his challenge, being short of a run on the inside rail. Imagine the pressure on Joseph O’Brien, just 19 then, on that day.

By the time Joseph had switched him out, Encke had been ridden into a clear lead by Mickael Barzalona but there was still hope Camelot would get him.

But he couldn’t. The turn of foot wasn’t there and Encke held on to win by three quarters of a length. The dream was over and I have rarely felt as flat after a Classic. All of the interviews in my head were scrapped, the closing words to the programme now meaningless.

The fact that Encke was one of those horses who tested positive the following year during the Mahmoud Al Zarooni ignominy left a bit of a sour taste, although there is no suggestion that anything was amiss on that strange day at Doncaster.

In fact, long after the dust has settled, I began to feel sorry for Encke, the horse, but not his trainer.

Race replay: Encke shatters Camelot's Triple Crown dream.

2016 HARBOUR LAW

One horse guaranteed to stay the Leger trip this year was Harbour Law, but he had to find a load of improvement from somewhere.

Fate stepped in when Idaho, the 4-6 favourite, stumbled and lost Seamie Heffernan after the field had turned into the home straight. It was a stunning moment and, on course commentary duty that day, I was massively relieved that I had been watching him when it happened.

Ventura Storm and Housesofparliament were having a rare duel at the business end when Harbour Law, given a superb waiting ride from George Baker but hanging quite badly left, swooped to take it from under their noses and make history.

The world’s oldest Classic had been won for the first time by a woman trainer, Laura Mongan, who trained just a small string at Epsom and I almost lost my voice in describing it.

I was also delighted for George who had made an important breakthrough. Just four months later, his riding career ended when he sustained serious injuries in a fall on the ice at St Moritz.

It is wonderful that he has made a full recovery and will be able to tell his children and grandchildren about the way he won the Leger. It was some ride.

Race replay: George Baker famously wins the St Leger on Harbour Law for Laura Mongan.