St Leger: Not to be for royal runner but a ‘brilliant day’

Sat 16 Sep 2023
 Desert Hero (red sleeves) behind winner Continuous in the Betfred St Leger (Photo: Healy Racing Ltd)
Desert Hero (red sleeves) behind winner Continuous in the Betfred St Leger (Photo: Healy Racing Ltd)

It was perhaps not quite the result racing wanted in the Betfred St Leger, but the sight of the King and Queen cheering Desert Hero into a valiant third place added to a real sense of occasion at Doncaster.

Although disappointed not to send out a first royal Classic winner in 46 years, after the late Queen’s Dunfermline won the Leger in 1977, trainer William Haggas was well aware of the significance of the King and Queen attending the final Classic of the season – on an afternoon which was also the scene of Frankie Dettori’s final ride in such a race.

There had been suggestions the King might not share his mother’s love and enthusiasm for racing. But that has proven to be well wide of the mark, and the joy clearly evident in Desert Hero’s win at Royal Ascot in June has reignited the nation’s interest in the royal colours.

Having opened a farming and rural skills centre in Dumfries in the morning, the King raced to South Yorkshire in time to watch his Sea The Stars colt, and while the Tom Marquand-ridden Desert Hero found the combination of soft ground and an extended mile and three-quarters possibly stretching him – as well as the brilliance of the winner, Continuous – Haggas felt the day was a big one for Doncaster, and racing as a whole.

"An all-round good day"

William Haggas explains to the King and Queen where the race was won and lost
William Haggas explains to the King and Queen where the race was won and lost

“It’s been a brilliant day and brilliant the King and the Queen have come, the crowd have embraced them, they seemed to have enjoyed it and they’ve been very enthusiastic,” said Haggas.

“I haven’t really had time to think about today this week as we’ve been so busy at home, but this horse is doing really well, he gets a bit sweaty but that is him. Physically he is thriving, he’s a very nice horse and a good effort for a first foal from the mare (Desert Breeze, bred by the late Queen).

“It’s been fantastic, the King has been embraced by the crowd, they both have, they’ve been very excited all week and OK he didn’t win but he ran with great credit and I’m sure they are very proud of him. It’s an all-round good day.”

Melbourne Cup at some stage?

Continuous beats Arrest (left) into second with Desert Hero a gallant third
Continuous beats Arrest (left) into second with Desert Hero a gallant third

As for the future, a trip to the Melbourne Cup has not yet been ruled out.

“I thought he ran a great race, he was just a little bit on it early and he really wants a mile and a half and a faster gallop. He’s going to be a very, very nice horse,” Haggas went on.

“I don’t know about the Melbourne Cup, that’s not my decision and it still needs to be discussed, hopefully we’ll make a decision quickly, well we have to because he’ll need to go into quarantine.

“He’s had a race there and he’s given his all, so I’m very proud of him. I’m thrilled his owners were here to see him.

“Tom didn’t blame the trip, I don’t think, he blamed the pace early which was a bit gentle for him but sensible in the conditions. He’ll be better with a faster pace and then he can take his time.

“He ran a good race and he beat Chesspiece a fair way this time, it’s probably a career-best so I can’t complain.

“As for next year a lot will depend on whether he goes for the Melbourne Cup, but he looks to me like a Hardwicke/King George horse.

“The Melbourne Cup is still on the table, but we said we wouldn’t discuss it until after this race because we’ve just been discussing this.”

Marquand: "An enormous day for racing"

 (Photo: Dan Abraham /
(Photo: Dan Abraham /

The eloquent Marquand has not put a foot wrong all week, agreeing to dozens of media requests along the way, and he suggested with a stronger pace he may have finished a good deal closer than the three and a quarter lengths he was beaten.

Marquand said: “He was never quite in his comfort zone, they were always just going half a stride slower than I wanted.

“He’s run great and ran to the line, but it does leave the question whether this trip is him or not, he finds it easier to cruise at a mile and a half.

“It was super having the King and Queen here today to enjoy it. It’s been an enormous day for racing, it’s fantastic. Unfortunately he didn’t win, but he’s run super and lost nothing in defeat.”

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