I’ve failed to give Flat’s long-distance runners the publicity they deserve during this campaign, and I thought it was time to rectify that, especially as the historic Doncaster Cup takes place on Friday.
The event, established in 1766, actually pre-dates the St Leger and has been run at its current distance of 2m2f since 1927. Sir Henry Cecil proved dominant in the late 70s and early 80s, when training several outstanding stayers. Bucksin, Le Moss and Ardross captured the Doncaster marathon during a dazzling period.
Bucksin was originally trained in France, but transferred to England in 1978. He had physical issues which made him tricky to train. Softer ground suited the fragile horse, who at his best could deliver devastating performances. He took the Prix Du Cadran in 77 and 78, and when moved to Henry Cecil’s yard during the latter part of 1978 captured the Doncaster Cup, winning the race by a staggering eight lengths. The following year he romped to victory in the Henry II Stakes on soft ground at Sandown. But he was famously unable to defeat his stablemate Le Moss on unsuitable quick ground in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Bucksin was retired after that Gold Cup defeat and became a hugely successful stallion in the National Hunt sphere, with his name common in the pedigree of staying chasers.
As for Le Moss, he inherited the mantle as Cecil’s top stayer, completing the Stayers’ Triple Crown (Ascot Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup) in 1979 and 1980. His clashes with Ardross during the 1980 campaign were exceptional, defeating the then Irish-trained challenger by less than a length on three occasions. Like Bucksin, Le Moss became a Jumps stallion of substance, notably becoming the damsire of Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander.
Exit Le Moss stage left, enter Ardross stage right. Sir Henry took over training duties of the latter in 1981 and set-about dominating staying events once again. The Yorkshire Cup, Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup were all landed, before being switched back in trip to contest the Geoffrey Freer. A stunning success launched a crack at the Arc in France. He finished a creditable fifth, and a year later at the age of six having won the Doncaster Cup, came within a neck of landing the prestigious Longchamp event. He was an exceptional racehorse, and like those before, became a terrific National Hunt stallion.
During the 1990s another exceptional stayer became the dominant force, proving particularly potent in the Goodwood and Doncaster Cups. The Mark Johnston-trained Double Trigger was so special to the Town Moor faithful that the course erected a Bronze statue to commemorate his illustrious career. He landed their stayers’ showpiece on three occasions from 1995 to 1998, and matched the achievement in the Goodwood Cup with a trio of victories during the same period.
His best campaign was as a four-year-old in 1995 when winning the Sagaro and Henry II Stakes, before landing the Stayers' Triple Crown. He was particularly impressive at Ascot, when demolishing the St Leger winner Moonax by a yawning five-lengths. Still on stud duty at Clarendon Farm in Wiltshire, he was a much-loved racehorse.
The best of the current crop is arguably the first two from the Ascot Gold Cup, Big Orange and Order Of St George. Sadly, neither are in attendance here, though we do have York’s Lonsdale Cup winner Montaly. He’s had an outstanding campaign to date, winning the Chester Cup and only just losing out at Sandown in the Coral Marathon. The win at York was a huge step forward, and he had several of Friday’s opponents behind him. He has a 3lb penalty to overcome, but he remains the form horse.
Pallasator and Sheikhzayedroad have won the last two renewals, and both return to Doncaster for another crack. Lightly raced this term, the former finished sixth in the Goodwood Cup at the beginning of August, and won the Doncaster Cup on his only previous visit to the track.
Sheikhzayedroad was a close fourth at York behind Montaly last time, having disappointed in the Goodwood Cup. Like Pallasator he is now an eight-year-old, and horses over the age of seven have a dreadful record in the race. Whether the pair retain enough zip to replicate previous victories is a serious doubt.
The Irish have won three of the last 10, and Willie Mullins attempts to maintain that impressive record. Thomas Hobson and Max Dynamite both carry the familiar Rich Ricci silks, though it appears that the latter is the main contender with Ryan Moore booked to ride. Niggling issues mean that the seven-year-old has had little racing in the last couple of years, though he was certainly impressive at Killarney last month. Runner-up in a Northumberland Plate and the Melbourne Cup, he also has a win in the Lonsdale Cup to his name. He’s a classy sort.
Three-year-olds have a poor record in the race, with just two wins in the last 20 years. David Elsworth sends Desert Skyline into the fray, with his third-place finish in the Goodwood Cup giving hope of a strong showing here. Big Orange was the only horse from the older brigade to beat him at Goodwood, and he has run well at Deauville since. He looks a major player, and is likely to appreciate any rain that falls.
Several of these will head to Ascot next month for the Champions Series finale, and likely be joined by Order Of St George and Big Orange. Sheikhzayedroad landed the big-one at Ascot last October, having won at Town Moor a month earlier. His trainer David Simcock will be praying for more of the same.