Arkle was one of the most successful Irish Thoroughbred horses ever produced by Emerald Isle. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, and trained by Tom Dreaper, Arkle posted a 27-2-3 record in 35 race starts. Jockey Pat Taaffe often partnered with Arkle. Taaffe rode the horse in 28 races and was atop Arkle in 26 chase outings. Twenty-four of those races ended in success for both Arkle and Taaffe.
The jockey was instrumental in Arkle’s wins at Cheltenham, a venue that saw the pair win four times – 1963,1964, 1965 and 1966. Three of Arkle’s wins at Cheltenham came in the Gold Cup. It wasn’t just at Cheltenham where Arkle ruled. He won twice at the Hennessy Gold Cup, once at the Irish Grand National and twice at the Leopardstown Chase.
Arkle has been rated as the best chaser of all-time, according to Timeform. Arkle’s rating of 212 tops the list of all-time great race horses. The 2018 Gold Cup winner, Native River, has a Timeform rating of 172, which pales in comparison to Arkle’s figure.
Arkle’s greatest success and 22 of his 26 steeplechase wins came in a short timeframe. The horse ran to glory in a four-year period from 1962 to 1966. He was the most dominant horse of his generation, and according to the Guardian newspaper, handicapping had to be altered to account for the horse’s ability to beat all other competitors.
His success of the 1960s helped Arkle become one of the most popular sporting figures of the decade. In a time when horse racing was on par with football, boxing and other games, and millions of sports fans followed it each year. Arkle was on top of the world.
An Irish national hero, Arkle died in 1970 and his skeleton can be seen in a County Kildare, Ireland museum today.
Sea the Stars is another one of the top thoroughbred horses of the modern era that has been considered as one of the greatest of all-time. Foaled in 2006, Sea the Stars was trained by John Oxx. In nine career races, Sea the Stars ran to a record of 8-0-1 and the Irish-trained horse earned more than £4 million in just two years of racing.
The half-brother of Epsom Derby winner Galileo and the son of Urban Sea, Sea the Stars began his racing career in 2008. The two-year-old’s first race took place at Curragh, but the horse’s inexperience in races showed as he finished behind eventual winner Driving Snow. Despite the disappointing result in his first race, the stallion rebounded well with a win at Leopardstown. Sea the Stars finished two and a half furlongs ahead of his nearest competitor and began a streak that wouldn’t end until he was retired in 2009.
Sea the Stars’ final race of his rookie year saw the horse win the Beresford Stakes. He finished just ahead of stablemate Mourayan. The Beresford Stakes’ finish would prove to be the closest race Sea the Stars won as he did it by just half a length.
The stallion’s rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg of what Sea the Stars would achieve. In his three-year-old season, Sea the Stars won the 2000 Guineas to start the year. Although he didn’t experience a preparation race and suffered from an illness beforehand, Sea the Stars exceeded expectations. Sea the Stars next won the Epsom Derby, The Eclipse Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes and the International Stakes.
Oxx took Sea the Stars to France for his final race of the season. He started the Prix de l’Arc Triomphe as the odds on favourite. Despite the strong field, Sea the Stars won the race and became the only horse to win the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc Triomphe in the same season.
Fallen for any April Fools pranks yet you plonkers?
Best Mate died in 2005 during the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup. The horse died of a suspected heart attack and fans who witnessed the event were moved to tears. Best Mate was one of the most beloved horses of his generation.
Much of that love was due to the Irish horses three Cheltenham Gold Cup wins. Best Mate won the Gold Cup in three consecutive years – 2002, 2003 and 2004. Best Mate’s unbelievable form and treble of Gold Cup wins matched Arkle’s record set in the 1960s. Best Mate’s consecutive Gold Cup wins made him the first horse to accomplish the feat since 1970 and 1971 when L’Escargot did it.
Best Mate was trained by Henrietta Knight and earned over £1m in winnings. The horse recorded a 14-7-0 record in 22 starts and remarkably never fell at a hurdle. Best Mate won numerous award during his career including the British Horse Racing Board’s Jump Horse of the Year.
Best Mate’s death came just weeks after a failed attempt to win his fourth consecutive Gold Cup. Best Mate had broken a blood vessel and it contributed to his inability to when the race. The race in Exeter that saw Best Mate’s untimely demise was expected to be his return to the top of the sport. Unfortunately, it was the venue for his death.
One reason for Best Mate’s popularity was due to the amount of money he had helped raise for charity.
The horse’s death didn’t just hit horse racing fans hard, but it also affected Knight and the trainer’s inner circle. The horse was called the best horse they could have ever had. In truth, Best Mate was the just that, a horse that won races and touched the lives of those who worked with him.