Do any of you remember the movie, "National Velvet?" I LOVED that movie. It starred a teenaged Elizabeth Taylor and a very young Mickey Rooney. That was a wholesome, touching movie that really focused on horses as oppposed to some horse movies where the horses are just an after-thought. That was my first exposure to steeplechasing - races of various lengths that include jumps. This is a cool video with great horse clips from the movie.
Considered the greatest steeplechaser of all time, Arkle was a bay Thoroughbred Gelding born on the 19th of April, 1957. His father was Archive. His mother was Bright Cherry (I like that name!) He was bred at Ballymacdl Stud farm, near Naul, Dublin County, Ireland, by Mary Alison Baker. He was owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, trained by Tom Dreaper (who also trained his archrival) and ridden by Pat Taaffe.
Arkle had a strange quirk. When he jumped, he crossed his front legs. Even with that, he won 27 of his 35 starts at varying distances and often carrying lots of extra weight. In fact, the Irish Grand National racing authorities devised two different handicap weight systems: one for when Arkle wasn't racing and one for when he was!
Arkle was extremely successful during his short racing career. He won 3 Cheltenham Gold Cups in a row: 1964, 1965, and 1966, plus tons of other big races. In December of 1966, Arkle struck the guard rail at the open ditch while running in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. He broke the pedal bone in his hoof but finished the race anyway, coming in second. He spent the next 4 months in a cast but never raced again. His owner rode him for pleasure after that. (Called hacking.) Arkle was put down at the young age of 13.
Arkle was so famous and such a favorite in Ireland that the slogan "Arkle for President" was painted on a wall in Dublin. Everyone referred to him as "Himself" and fan mail was sent to him addressed simply as: "Himself, Ireland" and it would get there!
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