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Arkle memorial looks a winner

Arkle was not only Ireland's most famous equine hero, but he was also a flag bearer for the country through the barren years of the 1960s.

In tough times, Arkle lifted a nation with his heroics on the racecourse as Ireland was then, as it still is now, renowned and devoted to National Hunt racing.

To commemorate his popularity, as well as his undoubted ability, a committee has been formed to erect a life-size statue of Arkle along with his most regular partner Pat Taaffe.

Despite being recognised with a bronze on Cheltenham Racecourse for the past 31 years, there is no dedicated sculpture to the horse that was so fondly known as "himself" around the world and easily recognised as one of the greatest chasers of all time.

The statue is to be erected in Ashbourne, Co Meath, which has been chosen due to the horse's connections to that general area having been trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan. The horse was also bred at Malahow, near Naul, and born at Ballymacoll Stud, near Dunboyne.

A committee was set up to organise funds for the statue and it was then decided to have it in Ashbourne rather than at a racecourse where viewing would be more limited.

The committee is headed by Jim Dreaper and his daughter Lynsey and, having got in contact with all the racecourses around Ireland, Bellewstown's Alan Delaney came up with the idea of having a 'legends race' to help raise awareness of the project and celebrate the legend himself that was Arkle.

Plans were then put in place for the race and now, under the kind sponsorship of Foleys Antiques of Naas, the legends race will take place at Bellewstown next Thursday and feature some massive household names.

Among those riding will be Jim Culloty, Adrian Maguire, the Evening Herald's Conor O'Dwyer, Jason Titley, Norman Williamson, Charlie Swan, Arthur Moore, Dermot McLoughlin, whose father Liam was the first man to win on Arkle over hurdles, and Gerry Dowd, who rode Brown Lad on so many occasions for the Dreaper family.

To add to the legend theme, Lester Piggott, who also won a Triumph Hurdle in 1954, and is undoubtedly a living legend of the sport, will be at Bellewstown on Thursday evening for the race.

Foleys Antiques, who currently showcase almost all the Arkle memorabilia available, will have a display including the prestigious saddle used by Taaffe when riding Arkle to win 22 of his 26 chases.

Taaffe, actually only owned two saddles and the one on show was the heavier of the two, hence the reason it was used on Arkle, who so often had to carry 12st or more in his races which is all but unprecedented in modern times.

Indeed, Arkle, even carried 12st 11lbs to victory in the Milltown Chase at Leopardstown, which is the highest weight ever carried by a horse to win since records began and the racecard showing that feat will be on display next week, along with so many others.

Arkle's rivalry with the other great chaser of the time, Mill House, simply caught the imagination of the general public which even led to the horse getting fan-mail, one of which was sent in an envelope simply addressed to 'Arkle, Ireland' and another that had 'The Mighty Arkle, Somewhere near Dublin'.

For those looking for more information on the Arkle statue or the action at Bellewstown next week, Lynsey Dreaper is contactable at 0871504022 or on the website at www.arklememorial.com.