Racing Heroes: Arkle
In our Racing Heroes series, Mike Deasy looks back the star of the sixties, Arkle
31 May 1970, 50 years do the day, Arkle died aged 13. Since 1964 he’d become one of the swinging sixties sporting icons, and he’s remained as such ever since.
I was nine when he was the first racehorse I became a fan of, which was not difficult given his domination of steeplechasing and the attention he attracted.
I’d yet to fully appreciate the talents of the stars of the Flat, such as Sea Bird, Sir Ivor and Charlottown. My connection with the Flat was through jockeys, including Scobie Breasley, Joe Mercer and Lester Piggott.
Jump horses Jay Trump, Red Alligator, Anglo and Foinavon all registered with me for winning the Grand National, the latter for obvious reasons.
But it was Arkle who kept on coming back to notch up one big race win after another, so much so that he “bust” the handicap. Brilliance, speed and tenacity were there is spades, and I loved every minute of watching him on a black and white TV – he provided the colour.
And, because you watched Arkle, you also got to know other jumpers at the top of their game.
There was the ever-present 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Mill House, who added excitement to his clashes, although he couldn’t prevent Arkle’s wins from bordering on the facile. In the 1965 Gallagher Gold Cup Arkle carried 12st7lb. He beat Mill House by 20 lengths.
And there was Stalbridge Colonist who would twice lower Arkle’s flag. First, when he beat Arkle in the 1966 Hennessey Gold Cup by half-a-length. He had a 35lb advantage.
Arkle’s first win at the Cheltenham Festival was in 1963. He took the Broadway Chase (now the RSA) by 20 lengths.
Trained by Tom Draper, Arkle ran in the colours of Anne, Duchess of Westminster. Those colours crossed the line first in three Gold Cups in three consecutive years from 1964, two Hennessy Gold Cups, the King George VI Chase at Kempton (pictured), the Irish Grand National and the Whitbread Gold Cup. He was also the three times winner of the Leopardstown Chase.
Such was his ability that Timeform gave him a rating of 212, two-pounds better than his contemporary and stablemate Flyingbolt, against whom he never raced. To put that rating into context, Sprinter Sacre has since had jump racing’s next best rating – 192.
All through his racing career he captured the attention and hearts of people way beyond racing’s usual congregation. Books were written about him, so was a song. Racing basked in the glory of a superstar.
After the heroics against Stalbridge Colonist in the Hennessy at Newbury, the two met again at Kempton in the 1966 King George VI Chase at Kempton. Revenge looked likely, but Arkle’s hoof hit the guard rail of an open ditch and he fractured a pedal bone.
Nevertheless, he completed the race but couldn’t get the better of Stalbridge Colonist and finished second.
He spent 16 weeks in plaster and, although he went back into training, his racing career was over. Just over three years later he was put down suffering from arthritis. His death made the newspaper front pages.
We are highly unlikely to see the likes of another Arkle. Peter O’Sullevan called him, in the nicest possible way, a “freak”. What he was, was “Himself”.
Racing Heroes series
Lester Piggott http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Yo
Kieren Fallon http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Ua
The Aga Khan http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3SB
Best Mate and Kauto Star http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Rk
Persian Punch http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Px
Sir Peter O’Sullevan http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3NB