Pat Taaffe

The late Pat Taaffe was famously tall, at 6’2”, and famously unstylish in the saddle – at least, according to some observers – but, nonetheless, rode 25 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, which makes him the fourth most successful jockey in the history of the National Hunt extravaganza, behind Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy. Of course, Taaffe is best remembered as the jockey of the legendary Arkle, on whom he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 1964, 1965 and 1966. Indeed, at one point, he was described by Observer correspondent Hugh McIlvanney as ‘one of the few horsemen in the world who can look Arkle in the eye without feeling inferior.’ It is fair to say that the part played by Taaffe in establishing the reputation of Arkle as, arguably, the greatest steeplechaser in history, should not be underestimated.

Less well remembered, perhaps, is that fact that Taaffe also rode Arkle to victory in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 1963, having already won the same race on Coneyburrow in 1953, Solfen in 1960 and Grallagh Cnoc in 1961. He also won on Proud Tarquin in 1970 and remains the leading jockey in the history of the race.

Remarkably, although Taaffe won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle twice, on Stroller in 1954 and Flyingbolt in 1964, his other 23 victories at the Cheltenham Festival all came over the larger obstacles. He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase five times, including two years running, on Fortria, in 1960 and 1961 and, in 1966, on Flyingbolt who, according to Timeform, is the only horse since the early Sixties to be rated within 20lb of Arkle. Two years after partnering Arkle to his third, and final, win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Taaffe won the prestigious steeplechase again on Fort Leney – trained, like Arkle, by Tom Dreaper – to become the leading jockey in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, which he remains to this day.

Istabraq

According to Timeform, Istabraq was the joint-second highest rated hurdler, alongside Monksfield and behind only Night Nurse, since the respected ratings organisation turned its attentions to National Hunt racing in the early Sixties. Hailed by his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, as ‘a class above everything he raced against’, Istabraq was a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival, beating Mighty Moss in a driving finish to what is now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 1997, before winning the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000 to become the first horse since See You Then in 1987 to win the race in three consecutive years.

Ridden exclusively by Charlie Swan, Istabraq ran in a total of 29 hurdle races and started favourite, mostly at odds-on, for all bar one of them. He fell twice, and was pulled up once, but in 26 completed starts was beaten just three times, including on his hurdling debut, as a four-year-old, at Punchestown in November, 1996. By the end of his career, Istabraq had racked 14 wins at Grade One level and over £1 million in prize money.

A son of champion sire Sadler’s Wells, out of a Secretariat mare, Istabraq was originally owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum and trained by John Gosden, for whom he won a couple of minor races, under Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, in 1995. He was subsequently sold to John Patrick ‘J.P.’ McManus, with a view to joining the late John Durkan, former assistant trainer to Gosden, who had plans to set up as a trainer in his own right. However, Durkan was diagnosed with leukaemia in late 1996, so Istabraq was transferred ‘temporarily’ to Aidan O’Brien, pending his recovery. Durkan was reportedly ‘overjoyed’ when Istabraq won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival but, tragically, died in January, 1998, at the age of just 31, shortly before Istabraq won his first Champion Hurdle.

According to Timeform, Istabraq was the joint-second highest rated hurdler, alongside Monksfield and behind only Night Nurse, since the respected ratings organisation turned its attentions to National Hunt racing in the early Sixties. Hailed by his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, as ‘a class above everything he raced against’, Istabraq was a four-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival, beating Mighty Moss in a driving finish to what is now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 1997, before winning the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000 to become the first horse since See You Then in 1987 to win the race in three consecutive years.

Ridden exclusively by Charlie Swan, Istabraq ran in a total of 29 hurdle races and started favourite, mostly at odds-on, for all bar one of them. He fell twice, and was pulled up once, but in 26 completed starts was beaten just three times, including on his hurdling debut, as a four-year-old, at Punchestown in November, 1996. By the end of his career, Istabraq had racked 14 wins at Grade One level and over £1 million in prize money.

A son of champion sire Sadler’s Wells, out of a Secretariat mare, Istabraq was originally owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum and trained by John Gosden, for whom he won a couple of minor races, under Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, in 1995. He was subsequently sold to John Patrick ‘J.P.’ McManus, with a view to joining the late John Durkan, former assistant trainer to Gosden, who had plans to set up as a trainer in his own right. However, Durkan was diagnosed with leukaemia in late 1996, so Istabraq was transferred ‘temporarily’ to Aidan O’Brien, pending his recovery. Durkan was reportedly ‘overjoyed’ when Istabraq won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival but, tragically, died in January, 1998, at the age of just 31, shortly before Istabraq won his first Champion Hurdle.

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