Notwithstanding an increasingly implausible Timeform rating of 212 – 2lb superior to contemporary stable companion Flyingbolt, but 30lb superior to any other steeplechaser in the last fifty years or so – Arkle remains the yardstick by which equine talent, at least in the sphere of National Hunt racing, is measured.
Named, not inappropriately, after a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, Arkle stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries, with the exception of Flyingbolt, whome he never raced. Between 1962 and 1966, the horse often revered simply as ‘Himself’, or ‘The Champion’, won 22 of his 26 races over fences. His major claim to fame was winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running, in 1964, 1965 and 1996, but he also won the Irish Grand National in 1964, the King George VI Chase in 1965, the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1964 and 1965, under 12st 7lb on both occasions, and the Whitbread Gold Cup in 1965, again under 12st 7lb.
Arkle demonstrated his class, most obviously, in handicaps, in which he routinely conceded two stone and upwards to the best steeplechasers of the day. Perhaps his most astonishing weight concession ever came in the Gallaher Gold Cup at Sandown in 1965, in which he faced his old rival, Mill House, who was receiving 16lb. Approaching the so-called Railway Fences – three fences that come in very quick succession at the end of the back straight – Arkle trailed Mill House and, momentarily, looked vulnerable. However, in a matter of strides, he effortlessly swept past the leader and drew away in the closing stages to win by 20 lengths, breaking the course record by 17 seconds in the process.
Arkle fractured a pedal bone in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, 1966 and, although he recovered from the injury, he never raced again. Five years after his death, at the age of 13, in 1970, his body was exhumed and his skeleton placed on permanent display at the Irish National Stud in Co. Kildare.