|Breeder||Mr. R.E. Way|
|Owner||Mrs. T.G. Wilkinson|
|Trainer||Tom Dreaper (in Ireland)|
|Record||Ran 34 times in all. Won 18. 2nd in 3. 3rd in 6. 4th in 2. Ran 25 times over fences. Won 12. 2nd in 3. 3rd in 5. 4th in 1. Ran 6 times over hurdles. Won 4. 3rd in 1. 4th in 1. Ran 3 times on the flat. Won 2.|
|Flyingbolt is a thoroughbred racehorse out of Eastlock by Airborne. He was born on 1959 in Great Britain, and was bred by Mr. R.E. Way.|
|Horse (Equus ferus caballus)|
|Last updated on March 20th, 2008|
Flyingbolt was a famous racehorse.
Officially he is the second best National Hunt racehorse of all time, after Arkle, but he is not nearly as well known as his rival. Flyingbolt's racing career was dogged by illness and injury but at his best he was probably as good as Arkle. It is very difficult to rate horses who never actually raced against each other but a comparison of their merits is probably best illustrated by the Official Handicapper who at one stage in 1966, when both were at the height of their powers, rated Arkle the superior by only 1 lb (0.5 kg).[clarification needed] Timeform, the highly respected racing publication had a difference of 2 lbs between them. Some[who?] will argue that Flyingbolt was the better but unfortunately<> he wasn't given the chance to prove it because both were trained by the same man, Tom Dreaper. Although Arkle was a triple Gold Cup winner, Flyingbolt was easily the more versatile of the two, showing exceptional speed over 2 miles as well as appearing to have no stamina limits. He was the best hurdler that Tom Dreaper ever trained, far better than Arkle, and at 7 years of age had achieved more over fences than Arkle had at the same time in his career. It is unlikely that Arkle would have had the speed to beat him over fences at shorter trips and unfortunately we were never to find out who was the better over 3 miles or more. The only way of comparing them was through the form of others whom they had competed against, and even that shows that there was little or nothing between them. An example of their superiority over their modern day contemporaries can be gauged from the fact that the recent 'superstars' of the chasing scene, Best Mate, Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star, Master Minded and Denman would be rated in the region of 21 lbs or more below both of them.
Flyingbolt was born in 1959 in most unusual circumstances. His sire Airborne, the 1946 Derby winner, was believed to have become completely impotent and local man, Robert Way agreed to give him a home on his small stud farm where he housed a few mares of his own. In the belief that Airborne was incapable of breeding, he put him into a paddock as a companion for the 19-year-old Eastlock, a barren mare who had not conceived for 4 years and had been retired from breeding. However, she took a liking to the supposedly impotent Airborne and the outcome was a chestnut colt foal born the following year. Robert Way sold him as a foal at the Newmarket December Sales for 210 guineas to Larry Ryan from Co. Clare in Ireland. After winning in the show ring as a yearling, Larry offered him for sale that autumn at the Ballsbridge sales in Dublin through the Rathmore Stud owned by legendary Irish jockey Martin Molony. He was bought by George Ponsonby for 490 guineas. George, a well renowned judge of horseflesh, had already purchased a number of top performers who went into training with Tom Dreaper. This one did likewise and was passed on to Mrs T.G. Wilkinson who, in making full use of both his sire (Airborne) and dam (Eastlock), gave him the very clever name, Flyingbolt.
Flyingbolt made his racecourse debut on the 13th May, 1963 in a flat race over 12 furlongs at Leopardstown. Starting at 20/1, he finished down the field but Tom Dreaper was quite happy, as the sole intention was simply to give him some racecourse experience. He was still immature and needed more time to fill into his massive frame so he was turned out into a field for the summer. His run at Leopardstown would prove to be his only defeat for the next two and a half years.
He re-appeared at Navan on the 9th October, 1963 when running away with the bumper by 7 lengths at odds of 8/11 in the hands of top amateur Alan Lillingston. Coincidentally, Arkle won his only ever flat race on the same card just half an hour earlier. After winning his next start on the flat at Leopardstown by an easy 4 lengths with Liam McLoughlin in the saddle, Flyingbolt was switched to hurdles the following month, winning his maiden at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting in a canter. He then hacked up in the Killester Hurdle at Baldoyle followed by an equally facile success in the Scalp Hurdle at Leopardstown before heading to Cheltenham where he ran away with the Gloucestershire Hurdle in the hands of Pat Taaffe who rode him in all of his jump races whilst in the care of Tom Dreaper. This earned him the title of Champion Novice Hurdler for the season. Later that same week Arkle beat Mill House in that now legendary Gold Cup of 1964.
After his customary summer break, Flyingbolt was sent chasing in the autumn of 1964. He won all 5 of his starts including the 2-mile Champion Novice Chase at Cheltenham (known then as the Cotswold Chase) and his final start at Fairyhouse where he carried 12st-2 lbs to victory giving the second horse 37 lbs. His superiority was such that he started at odds-on in all of his races that season.
He made his seasonal re-appearance in a handicap hurdle at the Phoenix Park on the 2nd October 1965 where he finished 4th when trying to concede 28 lbs and upwards to his rivals. Although beaten for the first time in more than two years, it was really only a warm-up race prior to the resumption of his chasing career, a sphere in which he still remained unbeaten. Flyingbolt proved to be a sensation during this season, winning all 6 of his chases with consummate ease ranging in distance from 2 miles to 3 and a quarter miles. He began with a victory in the Carey's Cottage Handicap Chase at Gowran Park, winning by 5 lengths carrying 12st-2 lbs and giving 32 lbs to the second horse. This was followed by a trip to Ascot in November where he won the prestigious Black & White Gold Cup in a canter by 15 lengths. For the first time in 8 starts over fences he started at odds-against for the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December. The reason for what appeared to be a generous price was because he had been allotted 12st-6 lbs in the race and had to give 25 lbs and more in weight to his 10 rivals, a task which many thought might prove to be beyond him. However those who backed him in from 5/1 to 5/2 favourite knew what he was capable of and he did not let them down. In one of the finest performances of his career, he took the lead with 3 to jump and galloped his rivals into the ground, drawing right away to win by 15 lengths in very testing conditions. Pat Taaffe described the race in his autobiography 'My Life and Arkle's:
"The ground at Cheltenham had been very heavy when we arrived, but by the time of the race unceasing rain had turned it into a sea of mud. For Flyingbolt, with twelve-stone-six to carry, you just couldn't imagine anything worse........I had Flyingbolt settled down nicely in the middle of the field, relaxed, jumping superbly and biding his time........ Then, as planned, I made my first move going up the hill at the far end of the course and Flyingbolt, unleashed and free, began to fly through the field........ At the top of the hill only Solbina and Scottish Memories were still in front. Flyingbolt went past and away from them, a man running against boys. Rounding the final bend, he was going so easily that he found time to jump a path across the course. He stormed up the hill, increasing the distance between him and his pursuers with every stride, to win by fifteen lengths from Solbina with Scottish Memories third. It was the manner of his victory, rather than the victory itself, that caused the furore. Men remembered that Scottish Memories had met Arkle twice in the previous season and stretched him on both occasions. In this selfsame race, the Massey-Ferguson, there had been thirty-three pounds and two lengths between them. And in the Leopardstown Chase, thirty-five pounds and one length. Now Flyingbolt had given him twenty-six pounds and left him sixteen and a half lengths behind. Didn't this prove that Flyingbolt was now every bit as good as his more illustrious stable-mate?"
His next start was back at home in the Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran Park where he carried the now customary top weight and beat Height O'Fashion by a distance (in excess of 30 lengths) giving her 28 lbs with Flying Wild (who received 29 lbs) another 25 lengths back in third. Yet another astonishing performance. Indeed Arkle had failed by a length to give 32 lbs to Flying Wild in the previous season's Massey-Ferguson Gold Cup.
His next port of call was the Cheltenham Festival for the 2-mile Champion Chase. He started at odds of 1-5, the shortest price in the history of the race and he won pulling up by 15 lengths. The comment beside his name in the Form Book afterwards said it all - "took lead 2 out, canter". This effort led many to regret that he wasn't given the chance to take on Arkle in the Gold Cup. Unfortunately, because both were trained by the same man, this was always unlikely to happen. However, 24 hours after the Champion Chase, Flyingbolt re-appeared in the Champion Hurdle where despite taking on the specialist 2-mile hurdlers he started a short priced favourite. Although beaten by just over 3 lengths, Pat Taaffe was widely criticised for going round the outside and perhaps not letting this proven stayer set a clear lead earlier. As it was, Flyingbolt got too close to the fourth last and lost valuable ground which may well have cost him the race. It is also possible that Taaffe was mindful of the fact that he had just raced the previous day and instead of kicking on down the hill in order to make full use of his stamina, he waited till the straight which allowed his 'quicker' rivals to conserve their energy and he was just caught for 'toe' after the last. Indeed, it was one of the very rare occasions that Tom Dreaper ever expressed his dissatisfaction to Pat for the ride he gave to one of his horses. However, Flyingbolt ended his season on a high note when carrying the welter burden of 12st-7 lbs in the Irish Grand National over three-and-a-quarter miles at Fairyhouse beating Height O'Fashion (by 2 lengths) and the previous year's winner Splash, giving them 40 lbs and 42 lbs respectively. When Arkle (carrying 12-0) won the same race 2 years previously he beat Height O'Fashion by a length-and-a-quarter giving her 30 lbs, 10 lbs less than what Flyingbolt had conceded. Indeed Flyingbolt is the only Irish National winner since 1946 to have carried 12-7 to victory in this race and it is a feat that is most unlikely to be repeated. Pat Taaffe later reflected on the race in his aforementioned book when he said:
"Flyingbolt won the 1966 Irish National very easily from Arkle's old rival Height O'Fashion. He settled down beautifully and I was surprised how well he stayed. If top weight worried him, it never showed. He made winning look an easy thing that day. Once again I was reminded that I was alternating between the king and crown prince of chasing. More than ever, it now seemed only a matter of time before he took over from Arkle."
It was yet another remarkable effort and he was now unbeaten in 11 starts over fences. In all, he had won 17 of his 20 races including 3 wins in 3 different races at the Cheltenham Festival, a feat that has yet to be equalled. At only 7 years of age (2 years younger than Arkle) it looked like he had the racing world at his feet. Sadly, things would never be the same again.
With another hugely successful season behind him, Flyingbolt was, as usual, turned out on grass for the summer along with a few other horses and a number of cattle, which would be normal practice on any farm. It was during this period that rumours began to surface of the Wilkinsons' eagerness to take on Arkle in the following year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. He had done everything else that was asked of him; he was unbeaten over fences at all distances and there was only one thing left to prove - that he was better than Arkle. Every racing fan in Britain and Ireland wanted this match to take place and as a result the 1966-1967 season was eagerly awaited.
Flyingbolt was first on to the stage. The race was the National Hunt Centenary Chase at Cheltenham on the 29th October 1966 where he carried 12st-7 lbs. Although giving 21 lbs and more in weight to the other 4 runners, they were a modest bunch and it was expected to be no more than an exercise canter for him. Starting favourite at 2-7, he appeared to have everything under control until suddenly weakening 2 out before finishing 9 lengths third. Something was clearly wrong but nothing obvious came to light. Eventually, exhaustive tests indicated brucellosis, a serious long-lasting infectious disease primarily associated with cattle. It was concluded that he must have picked it up during the summer whilst out grazing with the cattle, one or more of whom may have been infected. Brucellosis is a debilitating disease which also causes inflammation of the joints, a serious handicap in the training of racehorses. The only means of tackling the problem was through a prolonged period of medical treatment and plenty of rest, after which there was little or no chance of a full recovery. However, he was still a young horse and the hope was that he could recover sufficiently in order to return and win a Cheltenham Gold Cup. Tragically as it turned out, one horse whom he would now never meet was Arkle. Within 2 months of Flyingbolt's setback, Arkle fractured a pedal bone in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park and never raced again. The racing world was left completely deflated. Who could have anticipated that in such a short space of time one star would be lost to racing forever whilst the other would be left with a serious question mark hanging over his future career. It was hard to take, especially for Tom Dreaper.
Flyingbolt eventually returned to action a year later but only took part in 2 races within the space of a month. Carrying 12st-7 lbs in both, he finished 3rd on his first start at Punchestown (giving 42 lbs to all of the other runners) before finishing a well beaten 7th in the Mackeson Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Clearly he was not the same horse and it was Tom Dreaper's wish that he be retired rather than watch him deteriorate any further through no fault of his own. However, the owners decided to soldier on and when he was deemed ready to return to the track after a further year on the sidelines, he was now in the care of Ken Oliver in Scotland. Flyingbolt again ran in only 2 races that season although he did win one of them when carrying 12st-7 lbs to victory under Barry Brogan in a handicap chase at Haydock on the 3rd January 1969. Out of action for yet another year he eventually returned to race sparingly for another 2 seasons but he was unrecognisable from the great horse that he once was although he did manage to finish second in the King George VI Chase on the eve of his 11th birthday, one of the few races in the calendar where he was relieved from having to give lumps of weight away to the opposition. His final start, for his latest trainer Roddy Armytage, came as a twelve-year-old in the Topham Trophy Handicap Chase at Aintree on the 1st April 1971 where he carried top-weight but fell for the only time in his career. It was a sad way for it all to end. The fact that his owners made the decision to continue racing him after he had been struck down by brucellosis probably took some of the shine off his earlier achievements, and as such, some people found it difficult to believe that he could have been as good as Arkle. Jockey Barry Brogan who rode him to his final victory at Haydock was Tom Dreaper's assistant and stable amateur during the 1965-1966 season and had ridden both Arkle and Flyingbolt in their work. In his autobiography he says:
"In my view Flyingbolt was probably the best horse I ever rode - even better than Arkle. I honestly believe that he would have beaten Arkle in the 1966 Gold Cup if Tom Dreaper had allowed him to run."
In a subsequent interview with the Racing Post in December 2008, more than 25 years after the publication of his autobiography, he re-affirmed his comments when he said:
"For all Arkle's brilliance, I felt Flyingbolt was the better horse. If Pat Taaffe was alive, he'd tell you the same."
In the end, Arkle and Flyingbolt never met on the racecourse but they did so at home as Pat Taaffe recounted in his book 'My Life & Arkle's'.
"Flyingbolt was hacking along with Paddy Woods on his back and a funny look in his eye. Upsides on Arkle, I was thinking to myself that I would never see a prouder horse than this. Then he turned his head and slowly looked us over. You could almost see the curl of the lip. This was the 'Who are these peasants?' look of his that I was to come to know so well and I suppose I should have been forewarned. Next thing I knew he's taken a strong hold and was away. Not to be outdone, Arkle took an equally strong hold and got up alongside. And so these two young chasers who were then potentially the best in the world staged their own private race during what was supposed to be a normal session of morning schooling. They took the next four fences, neck and neck, flat out as though their lives depended on the outcome, while Paddy and I held on to them for dear life and waited for the fires to die down. Well, they cleared them all right, but it was a bit too close for comfort and Mr. Dreaper never allowed them to be schooled together again. In character, they were the night and the day. A small child could walk into Arkle's box in absolute safety. No child, no man would ever willingly step into Flyingbolt's.... at least, not twice. He'd kick the eye out of your head. But over jumps and on the flat he was a superb machine and a brave one.... For him, the future was limitless.... Certainly he was as good at seven as Arkle was at the same age.... If progress had been maintained, he would have been as good, if not better, than Arkle himself."
Jim Dreaper, Tom's son, was just a schoolboy at the time and he recounted his thoughts on both Arkle & Flyingbolt to Hugh McIlvanney 30 years later. "It is foolish to say there can never be another steeplechaser as great as Arkle. There may have been one in the yard along with him. It is impossible to tell how fantastic Flyingbolt might have been if he had not contracted brucellosis".
Who was the best? We will never know. Arkle is generally acknowledged as being the greatest ever steeplechaser. There are some who will argue the case for Flyingbolt. Even though he is officially the 2nd greatest steeplechaser of all time, Flyingbolt never got anything like the recognition that he deserved. Whilst Arkle is a household name to this day, Flyingbolt is not a name that registers with too many, especially the younger generation. Indeed he was described by renowned racing historian John Randall as "racing's greatest unsung hero." This was borne out in 2004 when the 'Racing Post' conducted a readers' poll to determine the 100 favourite racehorses of all time. Arkle, predictably, was number one. Flyingbolt didn't even get a mention.
- Article on Flyingbolt from The Guardian