Outsider Royal Diamond came out on top in a four-horse photo finish to win the $258,500 Gains Horse Feeds Irish St. Leger (Ire-I) by a head at the Curragh Sept. 15.
The 6-year-old gelding by King's Best was making his first start in stakes company after competing in the handicap ranks for most of his career. Trained by former top jump jockey Tom Carmody, Royal Diamond had even made a few forays over the hurdles, his best finish coming in January in a novice race where he was third.
A field of nine went to the post in the 1 3/4-mile marathon, with 2011 Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) winner Fame And Glory sent off as the favorite under Jamie Spencer. Also well-regarded was the John Gosden-trained Aiken, winner of the Grand Prix de Chantilly (Fr-II) and Hartani, a John Oxx-trained colt who had been second in the Irish St. Leger Trial (Ire-III) last time out. Royal Diamond was dismissed at 16-1, relatively low odds considering he had never competed at this level previously.
Fame And Glory broke alertly and was sent to the lead under Spencer. Hartani sat just behind in second, with Royal Diamond and Aiken just to his outside as they traded third and fourth between them. Brown Panther, who had been second in the Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I) last year, raced in mid-pack early, as Shu Lewis and Steps to Freedom trailed.
Fame And Glory set a moderate pace under Spencer while leading by about a length. Royal Diamond, Aiken, and Hartani continued to sit just behind the leader, as Brown Panther began to edge a bit closer on the outside.
With three furlongs left to run, Fame And Glory increased the tempo and opened up a clear lead on the rest of the field, which was now fanned wide across the track. Jimmy Fortune was hard at work aboard Aiken, and Niall McCullagh was asking Royal Diamond for more run as the pair set their sights on the leader.
As they entered the final two furlongs Spencer was all-out on Fame And Glory, imploring his mount for more but not getting the needed response. The longtime leader was engulfed by the field as he ran out of gas, with Aiken, Royal Diamond, Brown Panther, and Massiyn all battling for the lead.
In a four-horse blanket finish, Royal Diamond prevailed . Massiyn got up for second, with Brown Panther a short head back in third. Aiken was just a neck further back in fourth. Fame And Glory faded to finish sixth.
Final time for the 1 3/4 miles was 3:08.47 over the yielding turf.
It was the first classic victory for jockey McCullagh, who told reporters afterwards, "This is what all the early mornings and hard work is for. I've ridden many Indian classic winners but they're not like this one; this one is special."
Royal Diamond is owned by Andrew Tinkler, and was bred in Ireland by Moyglare Stud. Royal Diamond is out of multiple stakes winner Irresistible Jewel (by Danehill), and is a half brother to multiple group/graded stakes winners Mad About You and Princess Highway.