The British Flat racing season features five ‘Classic’ races, with the St Leger – the oldest of them, having first been contested in the 1700s, and the last of the calendar year – amongst the most fiercely fought.
It was a race that Queen Elizabeth II, in her guise as a racehorse owner, won in 1977 with Dunfermline – she took the spoils in six Classics all told, and now her son, the erstwhile King Charles, has inherited the family’s horse racing operation.
Yet to open his Classics account, His Majesty very much has a live contender on his hands in Desert Hero, the Group 3 winner who now looks set to be handed a shot at St Leger on September 16.
Royal Seal of Approval
The odds for horse racing bets on the St Leger have Desert Hero as the fourth favorite at +600, behind – appropriately given the royal theme – Tower of London at +500, Savethelastdance at +450, and the market principal, Gregory, at +250.
The St Leger, an energy-sapping jaunt at the UK’s Doncaster Racecourse over a stretch of nearly two miles, has a long aristocratic tradition.
The inaugural edition in 1777 was won by a horse owned by the Marquess of Rockingham, and since then an array of earls, dukes, lords, and ladies have taken the honor, as well as Edward VII, George VI, and of course, Elizabeth II.
There’s a long lineage of royal champions in this race, with the expectation being that Desert Hero can add to that lengthy heritage and hand King Charles his first Classic title.
Trained by William Haggas, the three-year-old was an +1800 underdog in the suitably-regal King George V Stakes back in June.
But with Tom Marquand delivering a sublime ride in the famous purple-and-red silks of the royal racing team, Desert Hero was just able to cling on to his lead from a fast-finishing Valiant King to take the spoils.
The horse was then moved up from handicap company to a Group 3 race in August at the Gordon Stakes, where he once again showed tremendous resilience to hold off late pressure and win by a neck from Chesspiece.
It seems Desert Hero has the stamina to stay the course in the St Leger, so the hope for those backing him is that he will be anointed as the Royal Family’s next Classic winner in September.
It’s somewhat ironic that the horse most likely to shatter King Charles’ dreams will be ridden by a jockey so beloved by his mother.
On numerous occasions, Frankie Dettori was photographed sharing a laugh and a joke with Her Majesty, while the Italian also made the headlines when he rather exuberantly kissed Queen Camilla – breaking royal protocol – when being presented with a trophy for winning the Ascot Gold Cup.
Dettori is likely to take the ride on Gregory at the St Leger. The pair combined for victory in the Queen’s Vase at Ascot back in June – a Group 2 win over 14 furlongs, which suggests that John Gosden’s horse has all the attributes to prevail at Doncaster.
But King Charles and royal enthusiasts will be hoping that Desert Hero lives up to his name – albeit in the rolling hills of northern England.