The late Pat Taaffe, who died in 1992 at the age of 62, will be long remembered as the jockey of Arkle – widely acknowledged as the greatest steeplechaser in history – on whom he won RSA Chase in 1963 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966. In fact, immediately before the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1966, as Arkle stood on the brink of history, Observer correspondent Hugh McIlvanney paid tribute to Taaffe, writing, “Pat Taaffe is one of the few horsemen in the world who can look Arkle in the eye without feeling inferior.”
At 6 ft. 2 ins., Taaffe was uncommonly tall for a jockey, but his unconventional, nay, untidy, style in the saddle – riding a finish was never his specialty – didn’t stop him from becoming Irish National Hunt Champion Jockey nine times or riding 25 winners at the Cheltenham Festival. The brilliance of Arkle may have eclipsed some of his less able companions, but all bar four of those winners were trained by his boss, Tom Dreaper. Remarkably, all bar two – Stroller, trained by Vincent O’Brien, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1954 and Flyingbolt, trained by Dreaper, in the same race a decade later – came in steeplechases.
Arkle aside, Taaffe also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his stable companion Fort Leney in 1968, for a total of four wins in the ‘Blue Riband’ event. He bettered that total in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with five wins, on Fortria in 1960 and 1961, Ben Stack in 1964, Flyingbolt – whom, incidentally, he regarded superior to Arkle – in 1966 and Straight Fort in 1970. Taaffe also won the RSA Chase five times, on Coneyburrow in 1953, Solfen in 1960, Grallagh Cnoc in 1961, Arkle in 1963 and Proud Tarquin in 1970 and remains the leading rider in the history of the premium novices’ staying chase.