The English Triple Crown will have to wait at least yet another year as the brilliant Camelot came up three-quarters of a length short to Encke in his bid to make history in the $852,500 Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I) at Doncaster Racecourse Sept. 15.
Encke, a regally-bred son of Kingmambo out of Darley Irish Oaks (Ire-I) winner Shawanda, was making his first foray into group I company after finishing a close third in the Great Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-II) last time out. The St. Leger was the first stakes win for the Godolphin-owned Encke.
A field of nine went to the post in the St. Leger, with Camelot the overwhelming 2-5 favorite. The son of Montjeu entered the race undefeated in five career starts as he sought to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970.
Trainer John Gosden sent out three in the St. Leger: Thought Worthy, a stakes-winning full brother to Lucarno, who won this race in 2007; stakes-placed Michelangelo; and Dartford, the outsider of the three who was entered as a pacemaker.
Sir Henry Cecil was represented by Thomas Chippendale, winner of the King Edward VII Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot. Investec Derby (Eng-I) runner-up Main Sequence was looking to turn the tables on Camelot this time around, while Ursa Major, who was also making the jump into group I company after rattling off three straight wins over the summer.
Thought Worthy went straight to the front under William Buick. He was soon joined by Dartford, and that colt took over the front-running duties from his stablemate, setting a steady pace under jockey Robert Havelin.
Main Sequence was away slowly out of the gate, and spotted the field a good three lengths as jockey Ted Durcan hustled him up to join the rest of the field, which was tightly-bunched with only about six lengths from front to rear.
Just behind the two leaders were Thomas Chippendale and Ursa Major, with Encke along the rail in fifth under Mickael Barzalona. Michelangelo was to Encke's outside, followed by longshot Guarantee, who had Camelot boxed in along the rail as Main Sequence trailed.
The order remained the same for much of the race, as Dartford continued along at a steady gallop. O'Brien had plenty of horse underneath him but was going to need some racing room, as Camelot was still trapped down along the inside rail in seventh.
Thought Worthy was the first to lay down a challenge, charging past Dartford with three furlongs to run. Quickly joining him was Ursa Major, with Thomas Chippendale moving into third. Encke was looming on the outside in fifth as Dartford began to fade along the rail.
Camelot was full of run as O'Brien looked for a way to get his colt some running room. Encke continued to gain on the frontrunners and surged into the lead with just over a furlong to run. O'Brien had gotten Camelot angled off the rail and sent him from between horses after Encke, who had opened up a three-length lead.
Camelot was in full flight as he tried to reel in Encke, but he ran out of ground and came up three-quarters of a length short at the wire.
It was another three lengths back to Michelangelo in third, with Ursa Major hanging on for fourth. The final time for the 1 mile, six furlongs, and 132 yards was 3:03.81 over a good turf course.
After the race trainer Aidan O'Brien seemed more contrite than downhearted, as he second-guessed his decision not to run any pacemakers in the race. "We expected him to win and if I thought they were going to go that steady I would have had a pacemaker or two in. But that's my fault," O'Brien said.
"It wasn't what we thought it was going to be. It was a steadily-run race and Joseph said he was a little bit fresh with him, but that was probably always going to happen in a slowly-run race," O'Brien continued. "You have to take your time on him over a mile and six which he (Joseph) did and when he got out he just stayed on rather than quickened.
"He ran a great race but just got beat. It's disappointing for everybody but that's the way it is. That's racing."
Mahmood al Zarooni trains Encke for Godolphin. Racing manager Simon Crisford said afterwards, "This might not be the most popular win on Town Moor today, but from our point of view it's fantastic. It's our sixth Ladbrokes St Leger."
"We are absolutely delighted with the horse and Mickael Barzalona gave him a superb ride. When he kicked at the two pole he put the race to bed."
Encke was bred in Kentucky by Darley. He is out of Shawanda, a daughter of Sinndar who won the Irish Oaks and Prix Vermeille (Fr-I) as a 3-year-old for her breeder, the Aga Khan. Godolphin purchased Shawanda, along with group I winner Valixir and two other horses, late in the 2005 season.
Encke is the second foal out of Shawanda, whose three-quarter sister Shareta won the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) last month. Encke's 4-year-old full brother, Genius Beast, is an English group III winner who competed in last year's St. Leger.