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.