Doncaster St Leger Festival 2016

The Two-Year Old Racing Season

Traditionally the two year old season began on the Flat turf at the Doncaster Lincoln meeting during the last week in March or the first week in April.

The advent and advance of the all-weather programme means that two year old horses now have an opportunity to run before the Flat turf season begins. Depending on the calendar it is not unknown for a Flat turf meeting to take place before the Lincoln Meeting at Doncaster.

However, the Brocklesby Stakes run as part of the Lincoln meeting, is still seen as the traditional start to the Flat season for the age group. All racehorses are deemed to have their birthday on 1st January so a horse foaled in January compared to another foaled in May clearly has an advantage in growth, development and possibly maturity. In the last 10 years only 2019 winner Show Me Show Me was born later than March.

Interestingly over the same period, six of the winners went on to win again during their juvenile career but only The Last Lion trained by Mark Johnston, who won the race in 2016, has gone on to win anything other than a low grade race. During his two year old campaign the bay colt won four times from 10 starts culminating in winning the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. He was retired at the end of the season and now stands at Kildangan Stud in Ireland for a fee of €7,500.

In the early season the two year old is restricted to running over 5 furlongs which is steadily stepped up to 6 furlongs, until finally towards to end of the Flat season a maximum race distance of 1 mile 2 furlongs is permitted.

The calendar of Pattern Races reflects these restrictions. Pattern Races are at the top end of the racing programme and are classified Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 and Listed, with Group 1 races representing the pinnacle. The first Pattern Race in 2019 was the Listed Marygate Fillies Stakes run over 5 furlongs.

The first Group races of the year take place at Royal Ascot in June. The first of these is the Group 2 Coventry Stakes over 6 furlongs which is run on the first day of the meeting and generally attracts a large field. Excepting 2019 winner Arizona, all of the last 10 winners of the Coventry Stakes are now standing at stud. Of that group, Power, War Command, The Wow Signal and Caravaggio all went on to better things winning at Group 1 level. Power has been the most successful, winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 2012. There are a total of five Group 2 and Group 3 races at Royal Ascot for the two year old horses along with two Listed races.

The first Pattern Race over a distance of 1 mile takes place at Salisbury towards the end of August which is a Listed event. The first Group race over the same distance is run at Doncaster during the St Leger Meeting. The May Hill Stakes is a fillies’ race and four of the last 10 winners have gone on to take Group 1 honours. By far the most successful winner over the last 10 years has been the Karl Burke-trained Laurens who has gone on to win no fewer that six Group 1’s including the Fillies Mile and the Sun Chariot at Newmarket.

In total the two year old Pattern Race programme in 2019 included:

  • Five Group 1’s
  • 16 Group 2’s
  • 16 Group 3’s
  • 24 Listed races

The Group 1 programme does not start until the end of September with the running of the Cheveley Park Stakes and the Middle Park Stakes for fillies and colts respectively. The Fillies’ Mile and the Dewhurst Stakes are also run at Newmarket in October along with the Vertem Futurity Trophy which is run at Doncaster. In 2019 it became the first Group 1 race in the UK to be run on an all-weather surface when it was transferred to Newcastle after the Doncaster meeting was abandoned due to waterlogging.

The Futurity was first run in 1961 as the Timeform Gold Cup and five winners have subsequently gone on to win The Derby the following year with Camelot being the most recent winner of both in 2011–12.

Leading horses in the Cheveley Park Stakes have gone on to win the 1,000 Guineas the following season. The first horse to do the double was Pretty Polly in 1903–04. Bred in Ireland she was an outstanding racehorse and was only the fifth horse to win the Fillies’ Triple Crown which includes the 1,000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and the St Leger. In total only nine fillies have managed to achieve the feat, with the most recent being the wonderful Oh So Sharp in 1985. The last filly to do the Cheveley Park Stakes and 1,000 Guineas double was Special Duty in 2009–10.

The Middle Park Stakes was first run in 1866 when it was known as the Middle Park Plate. It was originally open to both sexes and in 1903 Pretty Polly did the Cheveley Park Stakes and Middle Park Stakes double. It was only restricted to colts in 1987. It has not been a reliable guide to a likely winner of the 2,000 Guineas. The last horse to do the double was Rodrigo de Triano in 1991–92.

The Fillies’ Mile was only transferred to Newmarket in 2011 and in just nine years four of the winning fillies have gone on to have stellar careers. The 2015 renewal was won by wonder-mare Minding who went on to win the 1,000 Guineas, The Epsom Oaks, the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Nassau Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Rhododendron took the 2016 renewal and went on to finish second in the 1,000 Guineas before winning the Prix de l’Opera and the Lockinge Stakes. Laurens won the 2017 event, followed by Iridessa in 2018 who has gone on to win the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes and the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Who knows what 2019 winner Quadrilateral might go on to achieve – she has entries in the 1,000 Guineas, Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Irish Oaks.

The Dewhurst Stakes is run at the same meeting as the Fillies’ Mile and was established in 1875 as the Dewhurst Plate and is seen as the most prestigious two year old race in the British racing calendar. The race has been won by such luminaries as Ormonde in 1885, Hyperion in 1932, Pinza in 1951, Nijinski in 1969, Mill Reef in 1970, Grundy in 1974 and The Minstrel in 1976. In more recent times the likes of Rock Of Gibraltar and Frankel have won both the Dewhurst and the 2,000 Guineas.

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