When you were five years old, who was your hero? What do you think of that person today?
It’s important to know that I have the same respect for animals as I do for people. Maybe more.
I didn’t have to think of who the year of my 5-year old world was for a second. Arkle – the greatest steeplechaser of all time, holding the all-time Timeform record of 212 to this day. My father was a great racing fan and every Saturday I sat with him, first listening to the racing on the radio and finally, when we got our first TV set, I had the job of holding the “rabbit’s ears” in place while following the adventures of Arkle and his contemporaries. At five years old I could quote his lineage and his career history. I could tell you the odds set against him, what weight handicaps were applied, his height, best friend (a donkey) , and favourite beverage (Guinness of course!) , before I could remember my home address.
Every Easter we had a day out at Fairyhouse and I can clearly remember being lifted up over my uncle’s head so I could see Arkle coming home a length ahead of the rest of the field with 2.5 stone handicap at the 1964 Irish Grand National. That boy had everything: beauty, talent, power, and charisma. He clearly enjoyed performing for a crowd, his ears would go up as he flew past the stands and he knew perfectly well the cheering was just for him. The Irish Racing board developed two weight systems – one for when Arkle was present, and the other for when he was elsewhere.
This video shows a legendary duel between Arkle and the wonderful, exceptionally big, Mill House at Cheltenham in the same year. Watching it just now I got the same thrill today as I did at 5 years old when I watched Arkle react to his audience and pretty much demolish the opposition at the close of the race. When it’s said of this guy “They will never see his like again” it’s pretty much the truth.