Many experienced judges consider Arkle to be the greatest steeplechaser of all. The great Irish horse won three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups - in 1964, 1965 and 1966. He won 27 times out of 35 starts, many when bearing a substantial weight handicap, including the George VI Chase and the Irish Grand National. There was an aura of supremacy whenever this great horse ran. It wasn’t simply the victories, it was the dominant manner of them.
The defining moment came in 1964 at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup. It was the showdown between six-year-old Arkle, bred and trained in Ireland, and Mill House, England’s pride. It was Arkle (ridden, as for most of the great horse’s career, by Pat Taaffe) who caught Mill House with two fences to go and strode ahead powerfully and emphatically to the finishing line to a tumultuous ovation. It was a race for the ages.
Owned by the Duchess of Westminster (and named after a mountain facing the home of the Duchess in Scotland), Arkle broke a bone in his hoof in the King George VI Chase in December 1966 (still finishing second). He was in plaster for four months, recovered but never raced again. In 1971 a less-than-full-size statue of Arkle by Doris Lindner was erected near the paddock at Cheltenham where the great horse reigned supreme. He is still the emperor of all he surveys.
In 2014, on the 50th anniversary of his first Gold Cup success, another statue of Arkle should be unveiled. Sculpted by Emma McDermott, it is planned to grace the main street in Ashbourne, a stone’s throw from where the great horse was reared, trained and retired. To the Irish, Arkle was known simply as Himself. He was a national treasure. So Irish that he was reputed to have enjoyed two bottles of Guinness in his feed each night.