In the first of two documentary clips, Betway sponsored Kayley Woollacott gives us the lowdown on the trials and tribulations of her first full season as a National Hunt trainer. We follow the emotional journey of Kayley and those around her (such as owner David Staddon) as star in the making Lalor wins over the hurdles, then heads to Sandown, before sights are set on a Cheltenham Challenge.
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.
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.