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Arkle: The Life & Legacy of 'Himself' by Sean Magee

Release date: 14th November, 2005
Publisher: Highdown Publishing

List Price: £20.00
Our Price: £14.00
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Arkle: The Life and Legacy of 'Himself'
By Sean Magee
Highdown Publishing price: £14.00 (saving £6.00 on rrp)

There's a well-stocked stable of racing books on offer in time for Christmas√Ė

Who would have thought that when the Irish mare Bright Cherry foaled in April 1957, her offspring would, according to the readers of one national magazine, become more popular than the Beatles by 1966?

Bright Cherry, owned by Alison Baker, had been covered by a well-bred but middling stallion, Archive, for a relatively modest 48 guineas (£50.40), in the hope, rather than expectation that she would produce a world-beater. There were few early signs that the spindly young foal fitted the bill and so Mrs Baker decided to sell, sending the ordinary-looking gelding to her local bloodstock sales with a reserve of 500 guineas.

It was here that the Dublin-based trainer Tom Dreaper, having alerted Anne, Duchess of Westminster to the horse's potential, made the final conclusive bid of 1,150 guineas and thus acquired the horse for his patron. Arkle was duly sent to the Duchess's Cheshire estate from whence he would later emerge as one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time.

It is difficult for readers not around at the time to appreciate the unique qualities of a horse still referred to as "Himself" by an older generation of Irish racegoers. Yet Arkle captured the imagination like no other: during the last forty years, perhaps only Red Rum has come close, although technically, Arkle was probably the better of the two.

This wonderful book is not merely a chronological - if impressive - list of Arkle's successes, but also in part a social history which traces Arkle's incredible popularity.

It was readers of the TV Times, then the largest-selling weekly magazine in Britain, who voted Arkle the most popular personality of 1966 - ahead of the Beatles and Bobby Moore. Moreover, the horse received fan mail by the sack load, some of it addressed simply to 'Arkle, Ireland'. Indeed, when injured in 1968, he received so many get well cards that Tom Dreaper's wife Betty, who handled all of Arkle's fan mail, had to take on a full-time secretary to cope with the increased volume of mail! Arkle was even sponsored by Guinness as he enjoyed a few bottles of the black stuff mixed with his oats each morning.

His record was hugely impressive and included three Cheltenham Gold Cups, two Hennessy Gold Cups and the Irish Grand National, but punters admired his bravery above all else. Sean Magee has succeeded in acknowledging Arkle's wonderful legacy without becoming mawkish or writing a glorified statistical tome.

Undoubtedly racing's most famous voice for many years, Peter O'Sullevan was also a distinguished sports writer for the Daily Express. His inspired Horse Racing Heroes (www.4sportsbooks: £11.89) has been published in paperback and would represent a welcome addition to any sports fan's library this Christmas.

At once, the extent of O'Sullevan's research and horseracing knowledge is evident as soon as you open the book's cover, while the clarity and pace of the narrative makes it an absolute joy to read, even for those with a moderate knowledge of racing.

Finally, Moscow Flyer by Jessica Harrington (www.4sportsbooks: £13.29) is the ideal book to complement Sean Magee's Arkle, especially as the horse is often referred to as the greatest Irish jumper since "himself".

Harrington has written not just a portrait of how Moscow Flyer moved rapidly from Limerick to the winning post set in the shadow of Cheltenham's undulating hills, but mixed in an entertaining cast of characters and an often unlikely (but nonetheless true) set of circumstances to create a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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