Hedgehunter

Hedgehunter  Owned by billionaire businessman Trevor Hemmings and trained, in Co. Carlow, by Irish champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins, Hedgehunter is best remembered for winning the Grand National, at the second attempt, in 2005, rewarding many of those who stuck with him. Ridden by Ruby Walsh, the nine-year-old survived a mistake at the fence after Valentine’s Brook on the first circuit and his jockey briefly losing an iron at the fence before Becher’s Brook on the second. He was left in the lead when Clan Royal was hampered by loose horses approaching Becher’s Brook and made the rest of the running, eventually coming home 14 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer, Royal Auclair.

 

On his previous attempt in the National, in 2004, Hedgehunter had been ridden more positively by Ruby Walsh, but was a spent force when falling at the final fence. Hedgehunter returned to Aintree for the 2006 Grand National, in which he was allotted top weight, of 11st 12lb, but was nevertheless a favourite in grand national tips columns and was sent off 5/1 favourite to win for the second year running. He had previously run arguably the race of his life to finish second, beaten 2½ lengths, behind War Of Attrition in the Cheltenham Gold Cup just three weeks earlier but, although left in the lead by the fall of Ballycassidy at Valentine’s Brook on the second circuit, was outjumped by Numbersixvalverde, ridden by Niall “Slippers” Madden, at the final fence and eventually went down by 6 lengths.

 

Hedgehunter ran in the National twice more, finishing ninth of 12 finishers behind Silver Birch in 2007 and thirteenth of 15 finishers behind Comply Or Die in 2008, after which he was immediately retired.

Arkle

Arkle  If, like your correspondent, you were born too late to see Arkle in the flesh, it’s hard to grasp just how famous he was in his heyday. His extraordinary race record – he won 22 of his 26 steeplechases, against the best horses of his day – speaks for itself, but he had an aura about him, which transcended the world of horse racing and made him an icon of popular culture.

 

In fact, in 1966, Arkle was voted the most popular personality of the year, ahead of Bobby Moore and The Beatles, in a poll conducted by TV Times magazine. Notwithstanding his questionable Timeform rating of 212, which is 19lb superior to any other steeplechaser, bar his stable companion, Flybolt, since the mid-1960s, even today, the mere mention of his name inspires awe and admiration.

 

Bred by Mary Baker in Co. Meath, was sired by the classically bred, but moderate, Archive out of Bright Cherry, a top two-mile ‘chaser in Ireland. Bought as a three-year-old by local trainer Tom Dreaper on behalf of Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, the horse later revered simply as “Himself” made his racecourse debut in the Lough Ennel Plate at Mullingar, Co. Westmeath in December 1961.

 

Arkle won twice over hurdles in his novice season, including on his debut over the smaller obstacles at Navan in January, but between the start of the 1962/63 season and the end of his career, in December 1966, won 25 of his 29 races and over £95,000 in prize money. Ridden exclusively by Pat Taafe during that period, his notable victories included the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966, the Irish Grand National in 1964, the Hennessy Gold Cup in 1964 and 1965, the Whitbread Gold Cup and the King George VI in 1965. His four defeats included his final start, in the King George VI Chase in 1966, in which he fractured his coffin, or pedal, bone, but still finished second.

Frankel

Frankel  You may or may not agree with the so-called “historical recalibration” of the World Thoroughbred Rankings, which downgraded Dancing Brave, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1986, by 3lb, to leave Frankel, officially, the best horse since international ranking began in 1977. However, on his retirement to stud following his fourteenth consecutive victory, in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, 2012, Frankel had won 10 Group 1 races between 7 furlongs and 1 mile 2½ furlongs and just £1,698 short of £3 million in prize money, so there is no doubt he was a extraordinary racehorse.

 

Bred by Juddmonte Farms and trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel started favourite for all 14 starts and was sent off at odds-against just once, on his debut in a maiden race, over a mile, at Newmarket in August, 2010. Having readily beaten subsequent King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Nathaniel by half a length on that occasion, he won his next two starts by 13 lengths and 10 lengths, respectively.

 

Frankel recorded his first Group 1 win – a comfortable, 2¼-length victory over subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Roderic O’Connor – in the Dewhurst Stakes, over 7 furlongs, at Newmarket in October, 2010. His unblemished juvenile season led to him being named Cartier Two-Year-Old Colt. It was a similar story in 2011, too, when further Group 1 victories in the 2,000 Guineas, the St. James’s Palace Stakes, the Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes made him Cartier Three-Year-Old Colt and Cartier Horse of the Year.

 

In 2012, Frankel was untroubled to win all five starts – all in Group 1 company and all at long odds-on – which made him Cartier Champion Older Horse and Cartier Horse of the Year for the second year running. He became the most decorated horse since the Cartier Awards began in 1991.