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Greatest Racehorses: Arkle


Timeform profile Arkle, the greatest chaser of all time who achieved a rating of 212.

Pedigree Details

Sire: Archive

Dam: Bright Cherry

Dam’s Sire: Knight of The Garter

Breeder: Mary Baker

Foaled: 19 Apr 1957

Race Record & Factfile

Races: 34

Wins: 27

Owner: Anne, Duchess of Westminster

Trainer: Tom Dreaper


Arkle is on an extremely short list when it comes to nominating the greatest National Hunt horse of all time. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on three occasions and produced some extraordinary weight-carrying performances in handicaps that earned him a Timeform rating of 212 that has never been matched. Irish racing authorities were even forced to devise an A and B handicap system which would be deployed based on whether he participated, such was his vast superiority over his peers.

Stunning ability allied with an iron resulted in 22 victories from 26 starts over fences during a four-year period from November 1962. Rarer still was such a finely-tuned athlete being blessed with a seemingly bomb-proof temperament. He would barely turn a hair when providing photo opportunities for an adoring public as young children clambered on his back for a spin around the stable yard – he even proved a model patient following a career-ending injury sustained in the 1966 King George VI Chase at Kempton. Fan mail addressed to simply “Arkle, Ireland” subsequently flooded in as he recuperated, but the chance to land a fourth and potentially fifth Gold Cup ultimately eluded him despite the best efforts of connections to get him back on the track.

1961/62 Season

Named after a mountain in Scotland on the Sutherland Estate, Arkle was purchased by Anne, Duchess of Westminster for 1,150 guineas as a three-year-old and put into training with Tom Dreaper in August 1961. Singled out as the least attractive of the new arrivals that summer, jockey Pat Taaffe, who would be the other half of what became an iconic partnership, said: "He moves so terribly behind, you could drive a wheelbarrow between his hind legs." It came as little shock when he very much looked in need of the experience when finishing third and fourth in a pair of bumpers in December of that year under amateur Mark Hely-Hutchinson.

However, he would make a successful switch to hurdles early in 1962 as he caused a surprise in Navan’s Bective Novice Hurdle over three miles. "You know, I think we might have something here," said Dreaper to his wife Betty as they descended from the grandstand that day to greet their 20/1 winner. Taaffe then got the leg up for the first time in public as Arkle supplemented that victory in early March over two miles at Naas on his first venture into handicap company. He was kept to around that distance for two further handicap hurdles in April but found things happening rather too quickly. His jockey on both occasions was Liam McLoughlin, who reported after finishing fourth on his final start at Fairyhouse that Arkle would have won easily had the race been over two and a half miles.  

1962/63 Season

Arkle would register a perfect seven-from-seven record in his second season, returning in October with a pair of handicap hurdle victories over two miles at Dundalk and Gowran Park. The time had arrived for Arkle to be sent over the larger obstacles with the Honeybourne Chase at Cheltenham’s November fixture selected as a suitable starting point. He was backed into 11/8 favourite and sauntered home by 20 lengths before following up under 12st 11lb in an equally straightforward manner at Fairyhouse in February. He slammed the opposition given a more severe test the following month at the Cheltenham Festival in the Broadway Novice Chase (currently the RSA Chase) over three miles before rounding off his campaign back in Ireland in glorious fashion at Fairyhouse and Punchestown. While Arkle was enjoying a clean sweep, a certain Mill House was the clear-cut winner of that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. The pair were soon to become involved in one of the great equine rivalries over the next few years.

Major races won

  • Honeybourne Chase, Cheltenham
  • Broadway Novice Chase, Cheltenham
  • Power Gold Cup, Fairyhouse
  • John Jameson Gold Cup, Punchestown

1963/64 Season

The first encounter between Arkle and Mill House would come in the Hennessy Gold Cup in November after the former had easily won both the Donoughmore Plate on the Flat at Navan and the Carey’s Cottage Handicap Chase at Gowran Park. The stage was set and the stands were packed with Mill House the 15/8 favourite and set to give 5/2 shot Arkle 5lb in the Newbury showpiece over three and a quarter miles. It was Mill House who emerged out of the gloom in the home straight that afternoon to win comfortably with Arkle well held back in third having slipped badly on landing in the soft ground after three out when holding every chance. Mill House’s jockey Willie Robinson felt Arkle "won’t beat me this year" but Pat Taaffe believed that untimely error was more than a valid excuse and said: "I always thought after the Hennessy that Arkle was the best horse if they were to meet again."

That highly-anticipated showdown would come in the 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup after Arkle had won on three occasions in the build-up, including in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park when he gave 35 lb and a sound beating to Loving Record. Mill House had gone on to easily land the King George VI Chase at Kempton along with a conditions event at Sandown and was 13/8-on to defend his title with Arkle a 7/4 chance. The pair were a mile clear of their rivals over two out but it was Mill House who cracked first as Robinson drew the persuader around the home turn. Arkle won ridden out by five lengths after taking his measure at the last and was mobbed during chaotic scenes in the winner’s enclosure following what remains one of the great sporting moments of the 20th century. Mill House’s trainer Fulke Walwyn could not comprehend how Arkle had improved so much but there was little argument a new undisputed champion had been crowned.

Arkle would deliver an encore in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse just over three weeks later with officials now tasked to produce two handicaps for the race – one for if he ran and one if he did not. He was burdened with 12st and had to dig deep to land the odds by one and a quarter lengths from Height O’Fashion, perhaps an unremarkable outcome on the face of things until you consider the runner-up was in receipt of 30 lb.

Major races won

  • Thyestes Chase, Gowran Park
  • Leopardstown Chase, Leopardstown
  • Cheltenham Gold Cup, Cheltenham
  • Irish Grand National, Fairyhouse

1964/65 Season

Arkle returned to action at the end of October and easily won the Carey’s Cottage Handicap Chase for a second successive occasion giving 35 lb to his rivals. It set up a third encounter with Mill House in the Hennessy Gold Cup with the latter now 8 lb better off and fancied in some quarters to turn the tables. A record crowd crammed into Newbury to watch the pair duel in front at a breakneck pace from the off before Mill House eventually capitulated. Arkle coasted to victory by ten lengths from Ferryboat with his vanquished main rival a spent force from the home turn as he crossed the line in fourth place. Arkle was surprisingly back in action just seven days later in the Massey-Ferguson Cup at Cheltenham under the stopper of 12st 10 lb and was only beaten a length in third place having failed to give Flying Wild and Buona Notte 32 lb and 26 lb respectively over an unsuitable two miles and five furlongs.

He would be given a breather of just over two months before winning a second consecutive Leopardstown Chase and then heading back to the Cheltenham Festival for another showdown with Mill House in the Gold Cup. It was even more one-sided on this occasion as Arkle drew clear to win by an eased-down 20 lengths and a triumphant Pat Taaffe claimed: "He is better than last year and certainly improved." Arkle would now wait until the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown for his final start of the season, where he gave a remarkable three stone and a comfortable five-length beating to his rivals headed by Brasher and Willow King.

Major races won

  • Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury
  • Leopardstown Chase, Leopardstown
  • Cheltenham Gold Cup, Cheltenham
  • Whitbread Gold Cup, Sandown

1965/66 Season

The Gallaher Gold Cup at Sandown was a specially framed race for Arkle’s comeback in early November where he was set to carry 12st 7 lb with Mill House allotted 11st 5l b. David Nicholson took over from the injured Willie Robinson on board the latter and the pair jumped into a four-length lead at the Railway Fences. Nicholson said: "I saw Arkle and thought 'well old chap, we’ve got you this day'. The next moment he was alongside with Pat Taaffe not moving and just changed gear. It broke Mill House’s heart and all the fight went out of him that day."

Arkle won by 20 lengths from Rondetto with Mill House in third, breaking the latter’s track record by 17 seconds. Arkle and Mill House would never meet again.

A second victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup followed at the end of the month, winning by 15 lengths under 12st 7 lb, with his seven rivals receiving 35 lb. The crowds then flooded into Kempton Park to see him tackle the King George VI Chase for the first time. There were just three rivals and nearest pursuer Dormant was still jumping the last as Arkle crossed the line. There would be another two-month hiatus prior to Arkle winning the Leopardstown Chase for a third time, the race delayed on this occasion from mid-February until early March due to torrential rain. He scrambled home by half a length conceding three stone to Height O’Fashion as Pat Taaffe revealed afterwards: "Arkle was terribly unfit. He had not been able to do any work at home for weeks because the gallops were waterlogged." A third Cheltenham Gold Cup was secured 16 days later when he dismissed Dormant by 30 lengths in a common canter at odds of 10/1-on despite a heart-stopping blunder on the first circuit in front of the grandstand. It would be Arkle’s final start in an undefeated season after a decision was made not to take up an entry in the Whitbread, remaining in his box at home due to doubts over the race taking place following further inclement weather. 

Major races won

  • Gallaher Gold Cup, Sandown
  • Hennessy Gold Cup, Newbury
  • King George VI Chase, Kempton
  • Leopardstown Chase, Leopardstown
  • Cheltenham Gold Cup, Cheltenham

1966/67 Season

A brilliantly-timed ride by Stan Mellor on board Stalbridge Colonist lowered the colours of Arkle on his reappearance and hat-trick bid in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November. Mellor bided his time beautifully and delivered the 25/1 to pounce up the run-in and score by half a length. Stalbridge Colonist progressed further and was narrowly defeated in the next two Cheltenham Gold Cups but made the most of the 35 lb he received from Arkle at Newbury. Arkle bounced back the following month in the SGB Chase at Ascot with a 15-length victory, and was sent off a 9/2-on favourite for a repeat success in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Dormant, the horse he had beaten by a fence 12 months earlier, gained his revenge, though, in front of a stunned crowd of 16,000.

It transpired Arkle had sustained a broken pedal bone with Pat Taaffe looking uncomfortable on him from an early stage as his mount jumped and hung to the left. It is believed the injury occurred when he clipped the guard rail at the second fence but Arkle somehow still completed for second place. It turned out to be Arkle’s final race – he spent five weeks recovering at Kempton before returning to Ireland but any comeback plans were all but shelved the following autumn before the Duchess officially announced his retirement in 1968.

Major races won

  • SGB Chase, Ascot

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Wednesday 06 December
Ross Coakley silk Ross Coakley
Simon & Ed Crisford hot trainer
1. AL MUBHIR 120
Adam Farragher silk Adam Farragher
William Haggas
Hayley Turner silk Hayley Turner
Harry Eustace
Go to full race



1st Rossa Ryan silk 7. OPTICIAN 15/82.87f
2nd Jonny Peate silk ½ 2. LOUISIANA BAY (IRE) 9/25.5
3rd Cam Hardie silk 6. TRUSTY SCOUT (IRE) 11/26.5
J: Rossa Ryan  
T: Shaun Lycett  
11 ran. NRs: 11 


1st Joanna Mason silk 2. MIN TILL 13/27.5
2nd Harry Davies silk nk 11. GET SET JET 3/14f
3rd Gina Mangan silk 1 1. SNOOZE LANE (IRE) 15/28.5
J: Joanna Mason  
All 12 ran.


1st Dougie Costello silk 4. LANDLORDTOTHESTARS (IRE) 8/19
2nd Kieran Shoemark silk nk 10. KINGWELL 7/24.5
3rd Elisha Whittington silk ns 12. GYPSY WHISPER 18/119
T: James Evans  
11 ran. NRs: 11 


1st Rossa Ryan silk 5. TALIS EVOLVERE (IRE) 11/102.1f
2nd Daniel Muscutt silk nk 6. URBAN SPRAWL 11/43.75
3rd Clifford Lee silk 2. WOODSTOCK CITY 20/121
J: Rossa Ryan  
8 ran. NRs: 7 


1st Kieran Shoemark silk 6. SUPER SAIYAN (IRE) 7/42.75
2nd Richard Kingscote silk ¾ 1. GALLOPING ON (IRE) 13/82.62f
3rd Jack Mitchell silk 5 11. ROOBEENA 11/26.5
11 ran. NRs: 12 


1st Ryan Sexton silk 2. RAMON DI LORIA (IRE) 6/17
2nd Rhiain Ingram silk 8. DICKO THE LEGEND (IRE) 11/26.5
3rd Jack Mitchell silk 1. AGOSTINO 4/15
J: Ryan Sexton (3)  
10 ran. NRs: 4 


1st Daniel Muscutt silk 6. BETTER (IRE) 5/16
2nd Ryan Sexton silk 3 5. UPPER HAND (IRE) 5/16
3rd Rossa Ryan silk sh 10. BITCOIN PROFIT (IRE) 9/110
11 ran. NRs: 11 


1st Mr Eireann Cagney silk 7. BERNIE THE BEAR (IRE) 9/25.5
2nd Mr Fletcher Yarham silk nk 12. CHURCHILL BAY 5/23.5f
3rd Miss Pippa Brown silk hd 1. MY BOY JACK 22/123
11 ran. NRs: 6 


1st Charles Bishop silk 6. SIXTIES CHIC 4/15
2nd Dylan Hogan silk ¾ 5. MAHARAJAS EXPRESS 7/18
3rd David Egan silk hd 4. NORTHCLIFF (IRE) 13/27.5
T: Jack Channon  
10 ran. NRs: 11  9 
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