A memorial statue of legendary steeplechaser Arkle has been unveiled in the centre of the town in Ashbourne, County Meath in Ireland.
There is a statue of Arkle at Cheltenham Racecourse, but this is the first homage to the champion in Ireland, although the government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, has his skeleton on display in its museum.
Among those present at the ceremony on Saturday – Arkle’s birthday – were family members of Arkle’s regular jockey Pat Taaffe, representatives of the charity of owner Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, family of trainer Tom Dreaper, Arkle’s groom Johnny Lumley, his work rider Paddy Woods, and Alison Baker, whose mother bred Arkle at Ballymacoll Stud and started him under saddle.
The statue was crafted by sculptress Emma MacDermott. The rubber and resin mould was made into a bronze replica by Bronze Art Foundry in Dublin’s Gaelic Street. MacDermott’s portfolio includes a life-size statue of Sadlers Wells for Coolmore stud, Caerleon, Vintage Crop for Dr Michael Smurfit, and Nijinsky for Vincent O’Brien.
The quarter-size maquette for the bronze is about 28 inches high and is mounted on a polished mahogany base.It will be auctioned off by Goffs at the Punchestown Festival on May 1 to raise funds for Childvision, Ireland’s only Education Centre for Blind Children. It is expected to fetch about €60,000.
One of the 27 miniatures to mark Arkle’s 27 race wins was the official gift from the President of The Irish Republic, Michael D Higgins to Queen Elizabeth II during her recent state visit.
Arkle was trained by Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan and was ridden in all of his 35 starts by Pat Taaffe. Among his 27 wins, Arkle (Archive x Bright Cherry) won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times from 1964 to 1966. In 1966 he was the shortest priced favourite in history to win, starting at odds of 1/10. He won the race by 30 lengths despite a mistake early in the race where he ploughed through a fence. Arkle had a strange quirk in that he crossed his forelegs when jumping a fence.
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 4 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 on May 31, 1970.
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’.