The five English Classics are, of course, the 2,000 Guineas Stakes, the 1,000 Guineas Stakes, the Oaks Stakes, the Derby Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes. At least, that is the order in which the Classics are run in the modern racing calendar, but they all came into existence at slightly different times.
Indeed, the St. Leger Stakes, which is run over 1 mile 6 furlongs at Doncaster in September, may be the final Classic of the season, but was, in fact, the first to be inaugurated. The brainchild of Major General Anthony St. Leger, a local army officer and politician, the St. Leger Stakes was first run, as ‘a sweepstake of 25 guineas’, on Cantley Common in 1776, before moving to Town Moor two years later.
Next, chronologically, came the Oaks Stakes, devised by Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby and friends, and first run on Epsom Downs in 1779. The Derby Stakes, co-founded by Smith-Stanley and his friend, Sir Charles Bunbury – who, according to legend, tossed a coin to decide after which of them the race was named – followed a year later. Decades later, in his capacity as Jockey Club Steward, Sir Charles Bunbury was also responsible for establishing the 2,000 Guineas, first run at Newmarket in 1809, and the 1,000 Guineas, five years later.