The 1966 Cheltenham Gold Cup, run on St. Patrick’s Day, featured just five runners, Arkle, Dormant, Hunch, Sartorius and Snaigow. Unsurprisingly, all eyes were on the reigning champion, Arkle, as he attempted to emulate Golden Miller and Cottage Rake by winning the ‘Blue Riband’ event three years running.
Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster and trained by Tom Dreaper in Co. Meath, Ireland, Arkle had already beaten the 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner, Mill House, by 5 lengths and 20 lengths, respectively, in the 1964 and 1965 renewals of the March showpiece. By 1966, his popularity had transcended horse racing, at home and abroad, and he was often revered simply as ‘Himself’. In the absence of ‘The Big Horse’, as trainer Fulke Walwyn liked to refer to Mill House, who was sidelined with tendon trouble, a third consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup looked a formality and Arkle was duly sent off the shortest- priced favourite in the history of the race, at hugely prohibitive odds of 1/10.
Indeed, it appeared that the only things standing between Arkle and Cheltenham folklore were the twenty-two notoriously stiff fences around Prestbury Park. One of them very nearly did; at the eleventh fence – the final fence on the first circuit, in front of the stands – Arkle was reportedly distracted by the crowd and barely took off. He ploughed straight through the fence and, for one brief, heart-stopping moment, it looked as though Arkle and his jockey, Pat Taaffe, might part company. However, much to the astonishment, and dismay, of his rivals, Arkle barely broke stride and galloped on relentlessly. Arkle eventually sauntered home in splendid isolation, 30 lengths clear of the smart, but vastly inferior Dormant, with Snaigow a further 10 lengths further back in third place.