In the post-war era, three horses have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times but, with all due respect to Cottage Rake and Best Mate, Arkle is the benchmark against which all other steeplechasers have been measured for nearly five decades. His Timeform rating of 212 is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser and, with the exception of his contemporary and stablemate, Flyingbolt, no other has ever come close to reaching the same level. Best Mate, for example, achieved a Timeform rating of ‘just’ 185.
Foaled at the Ballymacoll Stud in County Meath, Ireland in 1957 and named after a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, Arkle fittingly made a winning debut over fences in the Honeybourne Chase at Cheltenham in November, 1962. He returned to Prestbury Park the following March to win the Broadway Novices’ Chase, latterly the RSA Chase, and subsequently won at Fairyhouse and Navan to finish the 1962/63 season unbeaten.
He first met Mill House, who was to become his nearest rival on the racecourse, in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November, 1963. On that occasion, Arkle slipped at the third fence from home and could eventually finish only third, beaten 8 lengths, behind Mill House, who was conceding 5lb.
However, Arkle gained his revenge in the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup, beating Mill House by 5 lengths, at level weights, after an epic duel over the last two miles. He repeated the dose the following year, making all the running to beat Mill House by an effortless 20 lengths, and confirmed his legendary status by beating Dormant by 30 lengths in the 1966 Cheltenham Gold Cup, despite making an uncharacteristic blunder at the eleventh fence.
In his first race of the 1966/67 season, Arkle went down by half a length to Stalbridge Colonist, who was receiving two-and-a-half stone, in the Hennessy Gold Cup. He won the SGB Handicap Chase at Ascot by 15 lengths, conceding 32lb and upwards to his rivals, and headed to Kempton for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
However, despite going down by just a length to Dormant, he suffered a fracture of his pedal bone in the closing stages and finished very lame. He recovered from the injury, but not sufficiently to return to the racecourse and was retired in 1968. He made his final public appearance at the Horse of the Year Show in 1969 but, sadly, was not to enjoy the long and happy retirement he deserved. In early 1970, he started to show signs of stiffness in his hind legs and, despite treatment for arthritis, his health worsened and he was put down later that year at the age of thirteen.
Originally bought for the princely sum of 1,150 guineas by trainer Tom Dreaper, on behalf of Anne, Duchess of Westminster, Arkle ran in 26 steeplechases. He was ridden in all 26 by Pat Taaffe, starting at odds-on on 22 occasions, and winning all but four. In fact, only six horses finished in front of him in 26 steeplechases and, aside from winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, he won the Hennessy Gold Cup (twice), the King George VI Chase and the Irish Grand National.
His Timeform rating may have been criticised for being “exaggerated”, at a time when no central handicapping existed, but the legend of the horse often referred to in his heyday simply as “Himself” endures. He is remembered by the Arkle Challenge Trophy on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, he is one of just three horses to be honoured with a statue at the course and his skeleton is on public display at the Irish Horse Racing Museum.