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Would Arkle Have Won The Grand National?

With much comparison currently being made between the horse of the moment, Kauto Star and the late great Arkle, it is worthwhile discovering why he is, by common consent, the greatest steeplechaser to have never run in the John Smith Grand National.

He is in fact regarded as the supreme chaser of the second half of the 20th century, if not of all time. To put it succinctly, Arkle between November 1962 and December 1966 ran in 26 steeplechases - ridden in all of them by Pat Taaffe - winning 22 of them. Owned by Duchess Anne of Westminister, who bought Arkle as a three year old for 1,150 guineas, he was named after the mountain facing her home in Sutherland. Trained by Tom Dreaper; Notre Pere's trainer Jim Dreaper's father; Arkle's big race wins include the Cheltenham Gold Cup (three times), Lepardstown Chase (3 times), Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup (twice), Whitbread Gold Cup, the Gallaher Gold Cup, the King George Chase and the Irish Grand National.

Arkle was such a wonder horse that rules had to be altered to adapt to his seemingly unnatural abilities! The Irish jump racing authorities felt that they had no choice but to introduce a new weighting system - 'A' and 'B' handicaps - the first being used when Arkle was running and the second when he wasn't, in order to give his rivals half a chance. This meant that he won the 1964 Irish National at 2.5 stone heavier than all the other horses in the race. This was a regular occurance for Arkle and one of his very few defeats over fences was when he was defeated by half a length by Stalvridge Colonist in the 1966 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, conceding two and a half stone to the winner.

Arkle was the first great racehorse of the era when jump racing was rapidly gaining popularity due to the increasing television coverage of the sport, and the 1964 Gold Cup, a highly anticipated race, similar to what we are this year anticipating between Denman and Kauto Star, was the first time the race was held on a Saturday, which brought lots more fans and spectators. Of course Arkle won, with his intelligence, courage and unusually low heartbeat! When his future rider jockey Tom Taaffe first saw Arkle he commented: 'He moves so terribly you could drive a wheelbarrow between his hind legs', but was he in for a surprise - Arkle possessed a greyhound-like style where he overlapped his hind and fore-legs, and had such a jumping style that he never once fell during a race.

The reason he never entered the Aintree Grand National was the love of his owner, the Duchess of Westminister - she never wanted her beloved Arkle to be subjected to the rough and tumble of the Aintree steeplechase. Unfortunately he had to stop racing after he injured his hoof in the King George Chase, and was put down at the age of thirteen due to arthritis. Would he have won the National? More than likely, but even without having entered the Grand National it is obvious that he is one of the greatest horses of all timeFind Article, up there with Red Rum. Can Kauto Star compare? We will have to wait until March and the Cheltenham Festival to find out.

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