Godolphin's unheralded Encke stunned 2-5 favorite Camelot in Saturday's Group
1 St Leger at Doncaster, denying the hitherto unbeaten colt's historic quest for
the English Triple Crown.
Trained by Mahmood al Zarooni and ridden by Mickael Barzalona, the 25-1 shot powered clear in midstretch and stayed on too strongly for Camelot to catch.
In the build-up to the final English classic of the season, Camelot's connections had mentioned the step up in trip to the extended 1 3/4 miles of the St Leger as his biggest challenge. Trainer Aidan O'Brien noted that his star colt was built more like a miler than a marathoner.
That concern proved to be justified. Camelot couldn't accelerate as sharply at this distance, and fell three-quarters of a length short of becoming the first English Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky II in 1970.
In contrast, the St Leger's stamina test brought about marked improvement from Encke.
The son of Kingmambo and multiple Group 1 heroine Shawanda had been beaten in two St Leger trials, missing on the head-bob to Frankel's brother Noble Mission in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood and finishing third behind Leger rivals Thought Worthy and Main Sequence in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York. Encke was a different horse at Doncaster, where he gained comprehensive revenge.
As expected, John Gosden's pacemaker Dartford went to the fore, but he didn't set off as fast as might have been forecast. The rabbit carved out only a moderate tempo, tracked by stablemate Thought Worthy. Encke, the second longest shot on the board after the 100-1 Dartford, sat in midpack. Camelot, meanwhile, was reserved near the rear of the field, and the Triple Crown aspirant traveled conspicuously well on a long rein.
At the top of the straight, all eyes were on Camelot as jockey Joseph O'Brien tried to thread his way through on the inside. The field was fairly well bunched, and a wall of horses blocked the favorite's advance.
Barzalona by that time had driven Encke forward. The beautifully-bred bay found plenty to pull away, and for a brief moment, it appeared that Camelot was going to suffer an agonizingly unlucky defeat.
But Joseph O'Brien was able to alter course and find clear sailing. When Camelot was set down in earnest, he did not show the same turn of foot as in his first two classic triumphs in the Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas and Group 1 Derby, or even his change of gear in heavy conditions at the Curragh in the Group 1 Irish Derby. The son of Montjeu made gradual progress to reduce Encke's margin, but was never doing enough.
Encke simply outfinished Europe's top-ranked three-year-old, handing
Godolphin its sixth winner in the world's oldest classic. Saeed bin Suroor had
trained all of the others to carry the royal blue silks to Leger glory -- Classic Cliche (1995), Nedawi (1998),
Mutafaweq (1999), Rule of Law (2004) and Mastery (2009).
Godolphin has now tied for the second-most wins in St Leger history. The 17th Earl of Derby won six from 1910 to 1943, and the grandfather of the present Aga Khan won the same number between 1924 and 1952. The all-time mark of seven is held by the ninth Duke of Hamilton (from 1786 to 1814).
After passing the post first, the exuberant Barzalona began a premature celebration, came unbalanced in the saddle, and almost fell off. Barzalona, like al Zarooni, was recording his first Leger win.
Another three lengths back in third came Gosden's other runner, Michelangelo. Ursa Major checked in fourth, followed by Main Sequence, Thought Worthy, Guarantee, Thomas Chippendale and the tailed-off Dartford.
Encke was making his second appearance at Doncaster, having finished runner-up in his career debut here one year ago. The winner of a Newmarket maiden last October, he did not reappear until July, when taking a 1 1/4-mile handicap at Sandown. Encke made his next two starts in the aforementioned Leger trials at 1 1/2 miles, but proved himself a thoroughgoing stayer here.
Bred by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley operation in Kentucky, Encke is a full brother to Group 3 scorer Genius Beast, who was well beaten in last year's St Leger.
Their dam, Shawanda, was a star homebred for the Aga Khan. By the redoubtable Sinndar, Shawanda compiled a five-race winning streak in 2005, including the Group 1 Irish Oaks, Group 1 Prix Vermeille, Group 3 Prix du Royaumont and Prix de la Seine.
Shawanda is a three-quarter sister to the Aga Khan's current colorbearer Shareta, most recently victorious in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks August 23. Her resume also features runner-up efforts in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last fall and in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud two starts back.
Shareta, likewise by Sinndar, is out of Shawanda's half-sister, French stakes queen Shawara. This is the family of Sharaya, winner of the 1983 Prix Vermeille; Group 2 victress Sharaniya; Japanese Grade 2 scorer Sans Adieu; and further back in the line, multiple champion and influential sire Blushing Groom.