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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.

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Birth of John Gubbins, Racehorse Breeder & Owner

john-gubbinsJohn Gubbins, breeder and owner of racehorses, is born on December 16, 1838 at the family home in Kilfrush, County Limerick. He is fourth son of Joseph Gubbins by his wife Maria, daughter of Thomas Wise of Cork.

Of three surviving brothers and five sisters, the third brother, Stamer, breeds horses at Knockany after distinguishing himself in the Crimean War. He dies at the age of 46 on August 7, 1879, after a horse falls on him while “schooling” over fences.

John Gubbins, after being educated privately, inherits the Knockany property from his brother and purchases the estate of Bruree, County Limerick. A fortune is also left him by an uncle, Francis Wise of Cork. Settling at Bruree in 1868, he builds kennels and stables and purchases horses and hounds. He hunts the Limerick country with both stag and fox hounds, and is no mean angler, until forced to stop by the operations of the Land League in 1882.

From his youth he takes a keen interest in horse racing. At first his attention is mainly confined to steeplechasers, and he rides many winners at Punchestown Racecourse and elsewhere in Ireland. He is the owner of Seaman when the horse wins the grand hurdle race at Auteuil, but sells him to Lord Manners before he wins the Grand National at Liverpool in 1882. Usna is another fine chaser in his possession. Buying the stallions Kendal and St. Florian, he breeds, from the mare Morganette, Galtee More by the former and Ard Patrick by the latter. Galtee More wins the 2000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes as well as the Epsom Derby in 1897, and is afterwards sold to the Russian government who later pass him on to the Prussian government. The Prussian government also purchases Ard Patrick just days before he wins the Eclipse Stakes in 1903, when he defeats Sceptre and Rook Sand after an exceptionally exciting contest.

Other notable horses bred by John Gubbins are Blairfinde, winner of the Irish Derby, and Revenue. In 1897 he heads the list of winning owners and is third in the list in 1903. In 1903 Gubbins is rarely seen on a racecourse due to failing health and sells his horses in training. In 1905, however, his health apparently improving, he sends some yearlings to Cranborne, Dorset, to be trained by Sir Charles Nugent, but before these horses can run he dies of bronchitis at Bruree on March 20, 1906.  His final instructions are, “As I aspired to breed fast horses, please see that my hearse is pulled at speed on my final journey.” Gubbins is buried in the private burial ground at Kilfrush.

In 1889 he marries Edith, daughter of Charles Legh, of Addington Hall, Cheshire. She predeceases him without issue. His estates pass to his nephew, John Norris Browning, a retired naval surgeon.