For the uninitiated, Arkle was arguably the greatest steeplechaser of all time. In a four-year period between 1962 and 1966, Arkle won 22 of his 26 races over fences – including the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966 – and finished behind just six horses. His Timeform Annual Rating, of 212, is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser and 20lb superior to any other steeplechaser in history, with the exception of his stable companion, Flyingbolt. Arkle was owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, and trained by Thomas William ‘Tom’ Dreaper at the family farm in Greenogue, Kilsallaghan, Co. Dublin, Ireland.
Who was the last jockey to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double in the same season?
The Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup represent the pinnacle of achievement in their respective divisions of National Hunt racing so, unsurprisingly, jockeys who have managed to win both races in the same season are few and far between. Norman Williamson did so in 1995, courtesy of Alderbrook and Master Oats, respectively, both trained by Kim Bailey.
However, the last jockey to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double was Sir Anthony McCoy, popularly known as A.P. McCoy or Tony McCoy. On March 11, 1997, McCoy rode the six-year-old Make A Stand, trained by Martin Pipe, to a five-length victory in the Champion Hurdle at odds of 7/1. Two days later, he also rode the nine-year-old Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance, to a nine-length victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 20/1. All told, McCoy rode three winners at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival – the other being Or Royal, also trained by Martin Pipe, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy – which were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the first time.
The simple answer is no, Aidan O’Brien is not related to the late Michael Vincent O’Brien, but the current ‘Master of Ballydoyle’ has much in common with his predecessor. Indeed, it was Vincent O’Brien who bought Ballydoyle House, in Co. Tipperary in 1951 and, later, along with his son-in-law, John Magnier, and the late Robert Sangster, established what became known as the Coolmore syndicate, for whom Aidan O’Brien has been private trainer since 1996.
Both Aidan and Vincent O’Brien began their training careers in National Hunt racing; both have the distinction of having won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running, Aidan with Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and Vincent with Hatton’s Grace in 1949, 1950 and 1951. Similarly, both men subsequently rose to become the dominant force in Flat racing, not just in Ireland, but in the whole of Europe and both became Champion Trainer in Britain, despite training on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Charles, Prince of Wales, made his debut as an amateur jockey, at the age of 31, in a charity race at Plumpton on March 4, 1980. He finished second aboard favourite Long Wharf and, just four days later, finished fourth aboard Sea Swell in his first steeplechase at Sandown. Later the same year, on October 24 – on the first occasion he and Lady Diana Spencer had been seen together in public – Charles rode his own horse, Allibar, into a highly creditable second place in an amateur riders’ handicap chase at Ludlow. After a promising start, it would be fair to say that the remainder of Charles’ brief riding career was not altogether happy.
In early 1981, Allibar collapsed and died while being ridden out one morning and Charles was subsequently unseated twice, in the space of five days, from his own horse, Good Prospect, including famously in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. He rode his sixth, and final, race at Newton Abbott on May 21, 1981, finishing ninth on Upton Grey, owned by his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; his career form figures read ‘242UU0’ so, while he came close once or twice, Prince Charles never did ride a winner as a jockey.