If you read a racing book, especially a book about steeplechasing, written and published before 1964, the name given to the greatest steeplechaser invokes the reaction ‘no, that can’t be right’. From our perspective it is not right, of course. Though, and this is a kind of heresy, the name Golden Miller might be the true answer to the question of who is the greatest steeplechaser of all time, as Ribot might be the answer to an equivalent question about the greatest flat racehorse. Our sport moves on day by day, with new chapters composed race by race and we are liable to forget the history that has brought us to where we are today.
The Racing Post asks of the interviewed on a Sunday ‘Arkle or Kauto Star’, with younger interviewees always giving the wrong answer. Perhaps if we were to give the question more study before submitting an answer Golden Miller will at least be mentioned. He certainly should never be omitted, as he is so often these days.
Golden Miller lived, surprisingly, into the age of Arkle, dying aged 30 and for those who like a pilgrimage he is buried at Elsenham Stud, Elsenham, Essex, a working farm. I just hope there is a memorial at the head of a perfectly preserved grave. If not, shame on whoever now owns the stud. He won more Gold Cups than Arkle yet it is the Irish star that is remembered at the Cheltenham Festival, with the Miller’s race nothing more than an ordinary 3-mile handicap in April.
Golden Miller also won more races than Arkle, 29, and though his stack of Gold Cups numbered 5 if snow had not forced the abandonment of the 1937 race no one is in any doubt he would have won 6. If his Gold Cup accomplishments were not enough for his memory to be preserved with the respect that is his due he also remains the only horse to win the Grand National in the same year as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and in what was a record time and carrying the welter burden of 12st 2lbs.
Of course his efforts in the Gold Cup are decried because in his day the race was thought of as a trial for the Grand National and even for Golden Miller it was only a stepping stone to Aintree. Arkle, though, is not belittled because in his Gold Cup he beat only 3 or 4 runners, with Mill House his only true opposition in his three victories.
The fine judge of a horse John Hislop thought Golden Miller a better stayer than Easter Hero, a more reliable jumper than Prince Regent and a stronger horse than Cottage Rake, 3 more great horses quickly fading into the mists of time. I hope one day to find out if he thought him superior to Arkle.
He was by all accounts a horse blessed with a placid temperament, which is perhaps why he very quickly took an aversion to the noise and argy-bargy of Aintree. That and his tendency to jump off his forehand, ideal for park courses but completely the wrong technique for the drops of Aintree. Even so, his effort in winning the Grand National is perhaps of greater merit than any of Arkle’s great weight-carrying performances.
A man by the name of Fred Varney used his winnings from a punt on Golden Miller to start his own coach business – Golden Miller Travel, now Tellings- Golden Miller and has as their logo to this day Golden Miller looking through a horseshoe, and the weather vane on top of Hucknall Library is a silhouette of Golden Miller. And as with Arkle he has a statue at Cheltenham racecourse. But is this enough? Is racing doing enough to treasure his memory?
How about moving the Golden Miller chase from the April meeting to the November meeting and boosting the prize money to go some way to matching his status in the pantheon of great steeplechasers? Arkle, Kauto Star, Golden Miller. Their brilliance should never be demeaned by the mists of memory.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.