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.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924 but, in the best part of a century, just four amateur jockeys have won what has become the most iillustrious prize in the British National Hunt calendar. Hugh Grosvenor did so on Thrown In in 1927, as did Richard Black on Fortina in 1947 but, since the Cheltenham Gold Cup was transferred to the New Course at Prestbury Park in 1959, just two other amateur jockeys have been led into the hallowed winners’ enclosure after the ‘Blue Riband’ event.
In 1981, Jim Wilson rode the seven-year-old Little Owl, trained by Peter Easterby, to a 1½-length victory over stablemate Night Nurse, thereby preventing him from becoming the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double. Exactly three decades later, in 2011, Sam Waley-Cohen won a highly competitive renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the six-year-old Long Run, owned by his father, Robert, and trained by Nicky Henderson. Despite facing the three previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, in the form of Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander, Long Run was sent off 7/2 favourite after comfortably winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton. The market support was justified; Long Run took the lead at the final fence and stayed on strongly to beat Kauto Star by 7 lengths, with Denman 4 lengths further beind in third place.
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.