Magazine article The Spectator

Something Special

Magazine article The Spectator

Something Special

Article excerpt

I love Doncaster on St Leger day. There are plenty of good racecourses in Britain, and making them work isn't exactly rocket science. You need good viewing facilities, clear signposting, decent catering, clean loos, an informative public address system and friendly staff. Doncaster has those, with some added ingredients. It is not just the pleasant walk under the trees to the welcomingly open saddling boxes or even the vast red-carpeted main betting hall, which throbs like a 1960s rock and roll ballroom. It is the sheer buzz of a jam-packed crowd determined to respond to the invitation to enjoy itself. The back-pocket wads are thicker at Doncaster, the beer goes down faster and the frills, feathers and diamante whatnots are gloriously over the top.

A pundit once advised inexperienced lady punters to `back anything which winks at you in the parade ring, unless it's Kieren Fallon, because that probably means he's looking straight down your cleavage'.

Given what was generously displayed at Doncaster, it is a wonder the parading jockeys didn't fall out of the saddle.

Some people want to change the St Leger, the final three-year-old Classic of the year at a mile and three quarters, opening it to older horses or even shortening the race. I see no reason to do so, not while Doncaster is attracting the crowds it does and while the oldest Classic of them all provides such a cracking race as it did on Saturday.

There was admittedly something special for the Doncaster crowd, with Bollin Eric coming home as the first Yorkshire-trained winner since 1973, a wonderful moment for octogenarian owner-breeder Sir Neil Westbrook and his wife after 40 years of loyalty sending horses to the Easterby clan, who own a fair chunk of the county. It was a first Classic success for Tim Easterby and a first British Classic for jockey Kevin Darley, a naturalised Yorkshireman. Not that the Easterbys were going over the top. Was Tim off to the local to celebrate that night?

`Let's get home first.'

Bollin Eric's form figures this season before the race read 32233. As I shared a taxi from the station beforehand with one of the country's most knowledgeable punters, he and I had eliminated Bollin Eric from our calculations on the basis that `he just doesn't seem to win', even though we were agreed he was a horse it was good to have on your side in a scrap. But he has only been campaigned at the highest level, and the Leger is contested mostly by horses trying the distance for the first time. …

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