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From Arkle to Desert Orchid: ten best winners of the Irish Grand National

Arkle: gave away 2st or more to six rivals when winning the Irish National in 1964
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First published on Wednesday, March 31, 2010


1 Arkle 1964

Trainer Tom Dreaper
Jockey Pat Taaffe
Owner Anne, Duchess of Westminster

There will never be another Arkle as far as racegoers of my generation are concerned.

Never before or since has a chaser so dominated his rivals. His brilliance caused the rules of racing to be rewritten to allow the handicapper to frame two handicaps when Arkle was entered, leading to the introduction of the extended handicap.

Having won his first Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, he returned to a hero's welcome at Fairyhouse. Carrying 12st and giving away 2st or more to his six rivals, he did not disappoint, although he had to be shaken up to beat Height O' Fashion. Arkle maintained complete dominance for the next two and a half years, until a broken pedal bone at Kempton ended his career.

2 Prince Regent 1942

Trainer Tom Dreaper
Jockey Tim Hyde
Owner Jimmy Rank

When the Second World War suspended jump racing in Britain, any horse of value was sent to Ireland, leaving it bursting with equine talent. Prince Regent emerged from this boom as an outstanding chaser forced to race in competitive handicaps.

Lumbered with 12st 7lb in the Irish Grand National, he was settled so well by Tim Hyde that he was left with much to do, but he still won, beating the top-class Golden Jack and St Martin.

A champion marooned at home in his prime, Prince Regent won the Gold Cup when he finally hit Britain in 1946 and was made favourite for the same season's Aintree Grand National. Carrying 12st 5lb, he led at the last but was caught by Lovely Cottage and Jack Finlay.

3 Flyingbolt 1966

Trainer Tom Dreaper
Jockey Pat Taaffe
Owner Jean Wilkinson

Flyingbolt was rated only 2lb behind Arkle, his stablemate, and was considered a serious contender for the champion's crown.

Unbeaten in bumpers and over hurdles, Flyingbolt took his unbeaten record in chases to ten with victory in the 1966 Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Pulled out the next day for the Champion Hurdle, Flyingbolt led over the last but was beaten for speed on the run-in and finished third to Salmon Spray.

Reverting to fences, Flyingbolt won the Irish Grand National, in a race run in "a terrific fog", as commentator Michael O'Hehir described it. He conceded 40lb to Height O' Fashion and beat her by further than Arkle had in 1964.

A clash with Arkle in the 1967 Gold Cup was eagerly awaited but neither horse turned up for the showdown and Flyingbolt contracted a virus from which he would never really recover.

Flyingbolt: won the Irish Grand National under Pat Taaffe in 1966
4 Tied Cottage 1979

Trainer Dan Moore
Owner-rider Tony Stanley Robinson

Tied Cottage and Alverton raced through a snowstorm neck and neck to the last fence in the 1979 Cheltenham Gold Cup, only for the Irish horse to crumple on landing.

Sent to Fairyhouse on a recovery mission, Tied Cottage, owner-ridden because Tommy Carberry was injured, bowled along in front until headed by Prince Rock. The latter looked set for victory but fiddled the last, while Tied Cottage put in a spectacular leap and retained his narrow advantage to the line, going one better than when second to Billycan in 1977.

Unknown to the public, Tony Robinson was undergoing treatment for terminal cancer and had barely a year to live. The following season he left his hospital bed to see Tied Cottage and Tommy Carberry win the 1980 Cheltenham Gold Cup and lived long enough to see his horse disqualified. The post-race dope test revealed minute traces of a "non-normal nutrient", not enough to enhance performance but enough to fall foul of the rules.

5 Rhyme 'N' Reason 1985

Trainer David Murray-Smith
Jockey Graham Bradley
Owner Juliet Reed

It appeared an open contest until punters helped themselves to Rhyme 'N' Reason, who won the first leg of the Fairyhouse/Aintree double, completed three years later.

Starting a clear 6-1 favourite, he trotted up under Graham Bradley, winning by 12 lengths despite a blunder at the last. The first British-trained winner since Don Sancho in 1928, Rhyme 'N' Reason was transferred to trainer David Elsworth following a persistent virus in David Murray-Smith's yard and under his care the horse recovered to win four valuable chases and then the 1988 Aintree Grand National.

6 Brown Lad 1975, 1976, 1978

Trainer Tom Dreaper
Jockeys Tommy Carberry and Gerry Dowd
Owner Connie Burrell

Brown Lad was a formidable force with cut in the ground and was runner-up in two Gold Cups as well as winning a record three Irish Grand Nationals.

Winner of the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, he was still a novice over fences when winning his first Irish National and returned in 1976, having won the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park, to take back-to-back runnings under Tommy Carberry. He missed the 1977 race but lined up again the following year and, with 12st 2lb, carried local boy Gerry Dowd to an unprecedented third success in Ireland's top chase.

7 Numbersixvalverde 2005

Trainer Martin Brassil
Jockey Ruby Walsh
Owner Bernard Carroll

When Ruby Walsh powered Numbersixvalverde past a flattening Jack High to a dramatic victory, his delight was tempered by his feelings for his disappointed father Ted, trainer of the runner-up.

"Weird" was his description as Numbersixvalverde became the first horse since Brown Lad to do the Thyestes-Irish Grand National double. Although Numbersixvalverde won only five races in his career, he delivered when it mattered, adding the Aintree Grand National to his tally the following year. Niall 'Slippers' Madden rode him that day, when he beat Hedgehunter by six lengths to join Ascetic's Silver (1904 and 1906), Rhyme 'N' Reason (1985 and 1988) and Bobbyjo (1998 and 1999) as the fourth dual Grand National winner.

Numbersixvalverde with trainer Martin Brassil and Ruby Walsh after the 2005 Irish Grand National
8 Flashing Steel 1995

Trainer John Mulhern
Jockey Jamie Osborne
Owner Charles Haughey

The recent death of John Mulhern, businessman and trainer, recalls the dramatic victory of Flashing Steel and the hectic post-race scenes.

The winning owner, Charlie Haughey, the former Taoiseach, was to be presented with the trophy by his political rival, the incumbent Taoiseach John Bruton. As if unsure of what to expect, the milling crowd stood in silence before roaring their approval as the trophy changed hands. Encouraged by his son-in-law, Mulhern, Haughey bought Flashing Steel after he won a bumper at Leopardstown. For Haughey the Irish Grand National was the sweetest of victories because he was a Ward Union man – the Hunt that established Fairyhouse and its feature race.

9 Desert Orchid 1990

Trainer David Elsworth
Jockey Richard Dunwoody
Owner Richard Burridge

Grey horses have always been more popular with racegoers than with owners, and have a terrible record in both the English and Irish Grand Nationals.

Desert Orchid, the people's horse familiarly known as "Dessie", was an exception, winning the Gold Cup in 1989 and totally outclassing the Irish Grand National field when hacking up by 12 lengths.

Only the third grey to be successful, the English champion was up there with Prince Regent and Arkle in his ability to win under big weights.

His career total of 34 wins also included four King Georges and a Whitbread Gold Cup, and he was the best English steeplechaser since Mill House.

Desert Orchid: outclassed his rivals to win the 1990 Irish Grand National
10 The Admiral 1894

Trained privately for owner-rider Frank Mitchell

The Admiral may not have been a recognised champion, but he is a record holder, having won 47 jumps races in Ireland.

Dubbed 'Mr Mitchell's slave' by the press, The Admiral made all to win the Irish Grand National, with former winner Greek Girl back in fourth. His win, the 48th of his career to this time, was worth £245, a fortune for a horse who had never before won a stake in excess of £25.

In his ten-year career, The Admiral was successful in all codes, winning 53 of his 162 races, although he was disqualified from first place once, and being placed 56 times.


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There will never be another Arkle as far as racegoers of my generation are concerned
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