The 2012 St Leger is one that will go down in history as one of the most controversial Classics in the history of racing. As is common with races surrounded in controversy, the 2012 St Leger isn’t best remembered for the horse that won it, but rather for the horse that didn’t.
Hopes were high that Camelot would become the first horse since Nijinsky in 1970 to complete the Triple Crown. Having demolished his rivals in the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the Irish Derby, the St Leger was expected to be a formality for Aidan O’Brien’s unbeaten colt. However, Ballydoyle’s arch rivals had an ace, of sorts, up their sleeve.
Encke, was sent off an unfancied 25/1 having been beaten in lesser company on his two previous starts. He only had two wins to his name, a maiden on his second start at Newmarket, and a handicap win off a mark of 90 at Sandown. On paper at least, it was unfathomable that he could spoil the party, but spoil it he did.
The race was run at an even gallop, courtesy of the John Gosden trained, Dartford, who was deployed as a pacemaker for Michelangelo, the more fancied of the Bjorn Neilsen owned duo. As the race started to unfold, Mohammed Al Zarooni would have been quite pleased to see Encke loom up behind the leaders, keeping Joseph O’Brien tucked in on the odds-on favourite. While O’Brien manoeuvred for a run, Mikael Barzalona kicked on Encke and stole a 3 length lead. Try as he might, Camelot couldn’t quite get to Zarooni’s colt who galloped relentlessly through to line to run out a 3/4 length winner. The Triple Crown dream was over, but the aftermath cast a huge shadow over Camelot’s gallant attempt at history.
Al Zarooni was later found guilty of doping 22 horses in his care with performance improving steroids, one of them being Encke whose ‘improved’ performance in the Leger suddenly made more sense. After the race, Al Zarooni said: “I thought Camelot would catch us as I remembered the way he quickened in the Derby [but] I knew Encke was tough and would keep going.”
While there was no evidence of anything illegal in Encke’s sample on the day of the Leger, one can’t help but feel his improved performance was a direct result of his disgraced trainer’s irresponsible actions.