Glory days when the Dreapers ruled the Irish Grand National

The Dreaper name will forever be ingrained in Irish racing folklore and particularly in the history of the Irish Grand National.

Pat Taaffe aboard the steeplechasing great Arkle, who won the Irish Grand National in 1964.

The legendary Tom Dreaper saddled no fewer than ten winners of the Easter Monday showpiece, including a remarkable run of seven consecutive victories between 1960 and 1966.

Jim Dreaper, inset, who took over the licence from his father in 1972, was a schoolboy when Olympia struck gold in 1960 – but unsurprisingly recalls the occasion with great fondness.

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He said: “The 1960 Irish National was my first. I was nine years of age and at that time it was a huge race and a huge day.

“It was before mobile phones and the majority of people in Ireland wouldn’t have had access to television at that time, so the crowds at the racecourse were massive.

“My memory of those early Nationals was it was just a matter of tidying yourself up, going over to Fairyhouse and a horse from this yard would win it! At that age it seemed to me to be that simple, because I didn’t know the difficulties involved. Eventually that came to an end, but they were great days with some great horses, who produced some great performances.

“There’d have been 25 horses in the place maximum, but year on year there were top, top horses here.”

The most illustrious equine name on the Irish Grand National roll of honour is that of the incredible Arkle, widely considered the greatest National Hunt horse of all time.

Having claimed the first of his three victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup only a few weeks earlier, “Himself” carried more than 12 stones to victory at Fairyhouse in 1964, giving more than two stones and a beating to his rivals.

Two years later came the success of another Dreaper-trained great in Flyingbolt, who had not only won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival that year, but also finished third in the Champion Hurdle the very next day.

“I think the performances of Arkle and Flyingbolt in the Irish Grand National were way better than any of their Gold Cup and Cheltenham performances,” said Dreaper.

“I think Flyingbolt had 12st 7lb the year he won it and was giving 40lb to the runner-up, Height O’ Fashion.

“Arkle had to work hard to win it, but he did. There’s no need to ask the top horses nowadays to do that because they’ve got such a great series of conditions races, where the maximum they’ll be conceding might be the 7lb mares’ allowance.”

Two years after taking over the reins at Greenogue, Jim Dreaper got his own name on the Irish Grand National winner’s board after saddling Colebridge to claim victory.

Dreaper was on the mark again the following year, Brown Lad registering the first of his record three wins in the race, successfully defending his crown in 1976 before regaining it in 1978.

“Colebridge [1974 winner] was a half-brother to Arkle and looked like he was going to be a proper horse – he was also third in a Gold Cup. He ended up getting a problem and came back and ended up just being a good horse,” Dreaper recalled.

“Brown Lad had a light weight the first year because he didn’t immediately take to chasing. He was a very deliberate jumper and as a result he got himself handicapped off the back of some moderate enough performances.

“His ability between the fences helped him to win a lot of races and eventually he got a bit more confident and he was able to go through the weights scale and do what he did in subsequent years.”

This year’s Irish Grand National has been one of the races hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and will hopefully be rescheduled for the winter period.

Dreaper added: “The outlook is bleak. There are more important things than racing - people need to stay healthy in life. There are going to be some desperately sad stories. It’s horrid.”