My interest in the St Leger horse race began in 1948 with a shilling each way on Black Tarquin which duly obliged at 7/1.
My enthusiasm was encouraged by my father who took us to the racecourse fair every year where we encountered the flamboyant Prince Monolulu with his dubious catch phrase “I gotta horse”. Based on these early experiences, I have remained a loyal fan.
I was therefore delighted when a definitive new book about the St Leger was recently published by a Doncaster-born writer and fellow racing enthusiast. Books were previously written about this classic race as long ago as 1926 and 1951. Both were excellent but not in the same league as the latest offering from retired teacher Tony Barber who has produced what racing pundit Brough Scott described as a masterpiece. Through carefully selected words and pictures, Tony has vividly described the race, the town and the myriad of personalities associated with them and the attendant events and festivities, some of them not always moral or legal. The St Leger: a History of the World’s First Classic Horse Race recounts the origin of the unique event, uncovering a genuine portrait of Anthony St Leger in the process. Much of the action was to be found off the course. The aristocracy had their card games, cock-fighting and fox-hunting while the hoi polloi were accosted by three-card tricksters and pea and thimble riggers. Revered as the race was, it was not without its darker moments. Nobbling of horses was commonplace and any number of villains and conmen frequented the meeting. In 1829, the cavalry had to be summoned to round up “an army of the scum of England” on Town Moor. Hundreds of thousands flocked to the course including kings and queens and the aristocracy, some of whom were involved in the Royal Baccharat scandal - wholesale cheating at cards - which threatened to destabilise the monarchy itself in 1890. Alongside these were the touts and the `amalgamated sons of rest’ whose order was not to work between meals, a considerable number of whom still seem to be present in Doncaster. Tony Barber tells us the whole story in glorious detail from the unnamed first winner in 1776 to the controversial disqualification of Simple Verse in 2015.
The writer clearly loves the race, the course and his home town and this passion has produced a collectors’ item. The 528-page volume is as much a social history of Doncaster as a celebration of its sporting heritage.
Priced at £75 and available from the Racing Post, it is a great investment and a fine gift for anyone interested in the colourful history of Doncaster and this incomparable race.