Who was the best, Arkle or Kauto Star? Or as the Racing Post more simply puts it to featured racing personalities in there Sunday supplement Arkle or Kauto Star, making it less a question about ability as which horse is their personal favourite. The young will answer Kauto Star, while those with more experience will answer Arkle.
As in so many other facets of life, the young are wrong.
Not that I am in any way suggesting that Kauto should not be spoken about in the same breath as Arkle. Indeed he is quite possibly the only chaser who can be considered in the same bracket as Arkle. But he was not as good, though to be thought of as the second best chaser of all time is honour enough.
There is an argument that Flyingbolt, Arkle’s stable mate, should be placed second in the rankings, with some thinking if Tom Dreaper’s two great horses had met Flyingbolt at worst would have put it up to Arkle, perhaps even beaten him. In the same way some people will insist that in beating Kauto in three Cheltenham Gold Cups, though he only won one Gold Cup himself, Denman proved himself superior to Kauto.
Perhaps at Cheltenham Denman was a better horse than Kauto. He was more robust and perhaps the demands of Cheltenham and his style or racing suited him more than Kauto. But you cannot make judgement on a career by only including facts that support your view. As with many, I loved Denman. He is and always will be my favourite horse of all time and without the problem with his heart I remain of the opinion that he would have gone a long way to emulating Arkle. There were times when I thought he was the very embodiment of Arkle, especially round Newbury.
But there is no fudging the issue, when you consider their records Kauto Star comes out better than Denman. As it was with Flyingbolt, with Denman it was all about what might have been.
Before we leave Flyingbolt, mention should be made, indeed it should never be overlooked or forgotten, that in the year Arkle completed his Gold Cup hat-trick, he won the Irish Grand National carrying 12st 7lbs beating the really good mare Height O’Fashion carrying 9st 9lbs, making him, strictly on figures, only the distance of a neck behind Arkle. In the Whitbread of that year the handicapper placed Arkle 4lb superior to his stable-mate. It rather puts into perspective Denman’s thrilling and heart-warming victories in the Hennessey.
What the advocates of Kauto do not appreciate is that Arkle rarely had the opportunity to race at level weights. If he had raced in our present era he would have proved unbeatable. When he was beaten in the Massey-Ferguson Gold Cup he carried 12st 10lbs and was giving ridiculous amounts of weight away to his rivals. In the Hennessey of his last season racing he carried 12st 7lb and was beaten an inch and a half by a horse who perhaps should have won a Gold Cup, giving him nearly 3st, with an actual future Gold Cup winner behind him.
Off top weight he won a Thyestes, Irish Grand National, 2 Hennessey Gold Cups, Whitbread, Gallaher Gold Cup (in a time that remains the course record for 3-miles at Sandown) and a S.G.B. chase at Ascot. He also won 3 Cheltenham Gold Cups, 3 Leopardstown Chases and a King George. The Irish handicapper became so frustrated with having to handicap every race Arkle was entered in by giving him top weight and every other horse bottom weight that for the Irish Grand National he framed one handicap to be used if Arkle ran and another to be used if he didn’t.
Kauto Star, of course, was a remarkable horse, especially for his longevity and courage. His fourth victory in the Betfair Chase is etched both on my memory and my heart. But in many instances he was the best horse by many pounds in conditions races where he did not have to concede the sort of weight that Arkle regularly had to overcome. It is one of the hardest of sadness’s to accept that like Arkle he was not to have the long and honourable retirement he so richly deserved.
In the coming seasons when we are thrilled by all the good young horses who will undoubtedly come along, as with the likes of Thistlecrack, Douvan, Altior and even Sizing John, a horse I believe to be underrated at the moment, we should not compare them to Arkle. It is like comparing apples with pears. It is like comparing all other Prime Ministers to Winston Churchill, the greatest British Prime Minister due to carrying on his shoulders a herculean task that no other Prime Minister has had to do.
Arkle, like Churchill, has no peer. He is, and always will be, the greatest racehorse of all time.
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.