Thursday, 12 September 2013

Transported by Miss Marple to the St Leger

Three of the eleven entries for Saturday's St Leger will travel to Doncaster from Ireland, while the other eight will come from locations all over Britain. One thing is for sure - all of them will arrive at the track in a horsebox, a method of transport invented, 177 years ago this week, by Lord George Bentinck.

During the first part of the 20th Century racehorses were commonly transported to the races by train; before then they were usually ridden, sometimes taking weeks to complete their journey. So it is easy to understand why 'Elis', the ante-post favourite for the St Leger since the Autumn of 1835, started to drift in the betting market when journalists reported that three year old colt hadn't moved from his field in Hampshire - despite the fact that the final classic of the season was just a few days away. 

Elis won five out of his six runs as a two-year-old, establishing himself as one of the favourites for the 2000 Guineas in 1836. Lord Bentinck backed him accordingly but reportedly lost a fortune when he was narrowly beaten by 'Bay Middleton' in a tight finish. The owner needed to land a major gamble in the St Leger to recover his losses, but the short prices being quoted by bookmakers were inhibiting his plans. 

Lord Bentinck hatched a plot - worthy of a Miss Marple mystery - to transport Elis inside a padded trailer. The trailer would be drawn by a team of six post-horses, with the aim of sparing the colt's energy and completing the journey in record time. The post-horses would be changed at various stages on the 204-mile journey from Nether Wallop (which incidentally featured as St Mary Mead in the TV adaption of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories) and there would even be time for an exercise gallop at Lichfield on the way. 

With a week to go to the big race, in the absence of any sign that Elis was likely to reach Doncaster, the bookmakers promoted the beautifully-named 'Scroggins' to 6/4 favouritism. Elis was easy to back and the conspirators began placing their bets.

Elis completed the journey in just three days and eventually started the 7/2 second favourite. He travelled as easily in the race as he did in the new horsebox, taking up the running after half-way and pulling clear of his field to beat Scroggins. He is believed to have landed his owner £24,000 - a small fortune in 1836. 

Two of this year's field will be travelling from Hampshire - Talent and Havanna Beat. Of the two, I prefer the Oaks winner, Talent. However, her finishing time at Epsom was 3 seconds slower than the colts in the Derby - in which Libertarian and Galileo Rock finished a staying on second and third. Talent will carry 3lbs less than the colts at Doncaster and I fancy all three - put them in any order to finish first second and third in a tote-tricast.

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