Arkle fans look elsewhere.
Arkle - The Legend of 'Himself' By Anne Holland Published by The O'Brien Press PS16.99 ([euro]18.99, obrien.ie) ARKLE was the greatest, is the greatest. His tale has been told time and again and delight in the telling and retelling remains fresh; no-one will ever grow weary of reading about Arkle. In this book - timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his watershed victory in the 1964 Gold Cup - Anne Holland leads us down the well-trodden path with the promise of new material, a new angle.
In this aspect she does not disappoint, yet it is by definition difficult to lend new vigour to a story so set in stone that it will last forever and unfortunately the task proves largely beyond Holland here.
Holland evidently knows as much about Arkle as anyone and her diligence in research must be applauded. Her attention to detail is almost forensic, which is at once a strength and a weakness, as she labours under the conviction that more - rather than less - is more, including every tiny scrap of hard-won information within these covers.
This is a book of broadly two halves, the first greatly superior to the second. Holland makes the most of her access to the humans in this horse's tale and provides a bright and illuminating account of Arkle's trainer Tom Dreaper, surprising even Dreaper's son Jim with the depth of previously untapped information and anecdotage.
We move on, borne on the broad bay back of the greatest steeplechaser ever, through Arkle's glittering career. The old stories are retold well and the reader is left in no doubt about the legendary status Arkle enjoyed and how he attained it, yet when his career is brought to a premature end on that gloomy day at Kempton in December 1966 this book also grinds to a halt.
The book now resembles a five-furlong sprinter asked to tackle a mile and a half. There is nothing left in the locker but the 'winning post' of page 206 must be reached somehow, so Holland struggles on through chapters of increasing irrelevance leading to a conclusion seemingly shorn of any editorial input and unhelpfully unindexed.
The inclusion of a review of the most recent runnings of the Arkle Chase at Leopardstown and Cheltenham is peculiar enough, yet even this brazen padding-out pales beside the chapter 'Remembering Arkle', which is simply a fly-tip of unused, practically unusable quotes that Holland cannot resist shoehorning in somewhere, anywhere. You will do well to find a worse example of lack of care in any book, and the editor who sanctioned its inclusion should be ashamed.
Criticism of anything Arklerelated is usually viewed with the horror accorded to those who trip up snowy-haired old ladies and steal their purses, but here it is unavoidable. Greater discipline from its author and even cursory attention from an editor would have helped, but the fact is there are much better books about Arkle to be found. Fortunately for the reader, the bibliography lists them.