It was a famous Irish Thoroughbred racehorse. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, his grandsire was the unbeaten (in 14 races) flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco. Arkle was bred at Ballymacoll Stud, Co Meath by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, Co Dublin. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, Arkle was trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in Co Dublin and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.
Arkle won 27 of his 35 starts and won at distances from 1m 6f up to 3m 5f. Racing commentator Peter O’Sullevan (‘Voice of Racing’) called Arkle a freak of nature — something unlikely to be seen again.
Arkle became a national legend in Ireland. His strength was jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President was written on a wall in Dublin. The horse was often referred to simply as “Himself”, and the story goes that he received items of fan mail addressed to ‘Himself, Ireland’.
In December 1966, Arkle raced in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park but struck the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which resulted in a fractured pedal bone; despite this injury, he completed the race and finished second. He was in plaster for four months and, though he made a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never ran again. He was retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbed to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and was put down at the early age of 13.
The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, Co Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne Co Meath in April 2014.
Painting by Jeff Evans
Photo: Skeleton of Arkle the horse at the Irish National Stud