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Unveiling of Arkle statue in Ashbourne

Story by John Donohoe

Friday, 18th April, 2014 5:52pm

Unveiling of Arkle statue in Ashbourne

Work on the statue of Arkle and Pat Taaffe.

The legendary racehorse, Arkle, is to be commemorated with a permanent monument in Ashbourne, the nearest town to his trainer Tom Dreaper’s base at Kilsallaghan, when a bronze sculpture of the champion steeplechaser and his regular jockey, Pat Taaffe, will be unveiled on Saturday.
The event marks the anniversary of Arkle’s 1964 Cheltenham Gold Cup win, the first of three-in-a-row for the horse owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster. The unveiling of the sculpture by Emma McDermott culminates the end of three years planning by a local committee chaired by Jim Dreaper, son of the late Tom, and celebrates the many local connections of the racehorse, who returned home to win the Fairyhouse Irish Grand National in 1964.
Arkle was bred by Mary Baker, of Malahow in north county Dublin, just six miles from Dreapers’ Greenogue stables. She chose Archive, well bred but a failure on the racecourse, as a stallion to cover her mare Bright Cherry, in training with Tom Dreaper. The offspring first saw the light of day at Ballymacoll Stud in Dunboyne, foaled by Dunshaughlin man Dan Daly.
Produced by widowed Mrs Baker’s daughter, Alison, the three-year-old duly appeared at Goff’s Sales in Ballsbridge in August 1960, with a reserve of 500 guineas. Acting on Tom Dreaper’s recommendation, Anne, Duchess of Westminster, bought him for 1,150 guineas. The Duchess brought Arkle to Eaton Hall in Cheshire to continue his development, before he returned to Greenogue in August 1961.
The following January, the horse was to record his first ever race win in the three-mile Bective Novice Hurdle at Navan Racecourse. He was a 20/1 outsider in the race where his stablemate from Tom Dreaper’s yard in Greenogue, Kilsallaghan, Kerforo, was being ridden by the late Pat Taaffe, the number one jockey at Dreaper’s. The late Liam McLoughlin from Ratoath was riding Arkle in his third ever outing.
His previous two - at Mullingar on 9th December 1961 and Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day  -  saw amateur jockey Mark Hely Hutchinson on board the four year old, and he has the distinction of being the only jockey who rode Arkle in a race and never won on him. The jockeys associated with Arkle’s win are Taaffe (whose wife was Mollie Lyons from Navan), McLoughlin, TP Burns and Ratoath man Paddy Woods, the horse’s work rider.
The Bective Hurdle at Navan was worth £133, and the great Dreaper hope in the race was the top-class steeplechase mare, Kerforo, winner of her last three chases in succession, but Arkle came from nowhere. Pat Taaffe was still bewildered in an interview four years later. “When he came past me, he was flying. We were at the end of the race. It was as if he’d just started.”
The horse, which viewers of Channel 4 Racing voted the top racehorse of the modern era, had an overwhelming record of 27 wins from 35 starts, at times carrying over two stones more than his rivals.
Arkle’s wins included the Cheltenham Gold Cup on three occasions, the Sun Alliance Chase, the King George Chase, the Irish Grand National, the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, the Punchestown Gold Cup and the Powers Gold Cup. Generally known as ‘Himself’, he was hugely popular, and his clashes with Mill House in the mid-1960s were the most anticipated sporting events of the time. Another Meath link with the famous Arkle-Mill House battles of the 1960s was Willie Robinson from Larch Hill, near Moynalvey, jockey of Mill House, who will be present at Saturday’s unveiling.
The legend passed away at Bryanstown in retirement in 1970, and his skeleton is on display at the museum at the Irish National Stud at Kildare.
For Saturday’s unveiling, The Dreaper and Taaffe families will be joined by lots of the lads who worked in Tom Dreaper’s yard in Arkle’s time, with their families.
Lynsey Dreaper, daughter of Jim, explains: “Saturday is Arkle’s birthday and the following day is the 94th birthday of Alison Baker. Alison has been Arkle’s biggest fan since the very beginning and this unveiling is a wonderful birthday present for her.”
Emma MacDermott has made 27 quarter scales versions of the statue, in honour of the 27 races won by Arkle. The first is being auctioned at Punchestown on 1st May to raise funds for Childvision. The second was presented by President Higgins to Queen Elizabeth II during his State Visit to Britain last week. The remainder are available for purchase.
A town square style surround has been designed and constructed with paving, landscaping and seating so that the area where Arkle will stand is a space that people can enjoy, visit whenever they like and have some time out when out and about shopping. Work began on the site in January. The Saturday unveiling date means schools are out and more of the local community can enjoy the unveiling ceremony and town festival. The ceremony takes place at 3pm on Saturday, 19th April.

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