Dozens of horses will compete in 28 races over four days at this week’s Cheltenham Festival, but they face the impossible task of matching the 50-year-old achievement of an American steeplechase hero.
At the 1973 Festival, Inkslinger won the 2-mile Champion Chase – now known as the Queen Mother – and returned two days later to win the 2 5/8-mile Cathcart Chase. Inkslinger followed Solfen, who won what is now the Brown Advisory novice chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1960, but their feats will remain unmatched as a 2019 rule prohibits a horse from starting twice at the same Cheltenham Festival.
Despite never winning an American championship, Inkslinger is a fitting legacy horse.
“He was very good,” said Arthur Moore, whose father Dan trained Inkslinger in Ireland. “He had proper jumping blood, being by Bronze Babu who was by My Babu. That’s good French blood that really dominated the jumping in the British Isles in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It wasn’t as if he got lucky and won. He had the right toughness and ability.”
That toughness and ability started in 1967 at Maryland’s Glade Valley Farm, when the Ardan mare Laurel Wreath gave birth to a bay colt. He sold for $5,500 as a yearling to Martie Sanger (then Martie Jenney) at the Timonium sale.
Gelded and sent to Jonathan Sheppard, Inkslinger became a hurdler and won six races as a 3-year-old in 1970. The victories reflect a different era for American jump racing – coming at Fair Hill in May, Belmont Park in September (three times), Belmont again in October and the Colonial Cup in November. Inkslinger ran a half-dozen times over hurdles as a 3-year-old, winning all six. Transferred to Mikey Smithwick in 1971, Inkslinger was just as good, though not as busy – winning the season-ending $100,000 Colonial Cup by a neck over fellow 4-year-old and 1972 champion Soothsayer. The 1970 champion Top Bid finished third, with 1971 champion Shadow Brook fourth. The four greats met again in the 1972 Colonial Cup, with Soothsayer winning over Inkslinger, with Shadow Brook third and Top Bid fourth.
With opportunities for stakes-level horses diminishing in the U.S. at the time – the New York Racing Association tracks axed nearly all jump racing after 1970 – Inkslinger joined the stable of Smithwick’s cousin Moore in Ireland for a 1973 campaign. The Maryland-bred impressed his trainer from the start, and made history at Cheltenham.
A Racing TV video picks up the race on the home turn. Royal Relief leads, but Inkslinger soon joins as Crisp (the winner in 1971) tries to keep pace. Inkslinger matches strides with Royal Relief coming to the last, gets outjumped a hair but lands with momentum and builds a quick half-length lead. Royal Relief fights back, but is no match. Inkslinger and Tommy Carberry win by three-quarters of a length.
Today, the triumph would be an instant milestone. An American-owned horse who won major races in the United States landing a Queen Mother? Racing Twitter might collapse inside itself. In 1973, it was the first notch in a two-holed belt. The Cathcart beckoned and Inkslinger complied – winning again while running an additional five-eighths of a mile.
Then his father’s assistant and a future successful trainer in his own right, Arthur Moore figures his father planned on the second race well before the first.
“I imagine it was (the plan),” he said. “Father had done it with other horses, and other people had. It wasn’t that new. I suppose Inkslinger’s temperament helped him. He wasn’t a heavy horse, all quality and a nice-sized horse, just a beauty. We were very privileged to have him.”
There is no online video of the Cathcart, but the victory cemented Inkslinger’s quality and gave Dan Moore another feather in a full training cap. He won 14 Festival races, topped by L’Escargot’s two Gold Cups. L’Escargot added the Aintree Grand National in 1975, joining Golden Miller as the only horses to win the Gold Cup and Aintree.
Inkslinger placed third in the 1973 Whitbread Gold Cup at more than 3 ½ miles, and headed to 1974 with the Cheltenham Gold Cup very much on the agenda. Second behind Pendil in the King George VI in December 1973, Inkslinger started in the 1974 Gold Cup and was traveling well when he fell about halfway through. Captain Christy won it for Ireland. The 1974 Festival included four American challengers – Soothsayer won the Cathcart, Tingle Creek finished second in the Champion Chase, Amarind fell in the Champion Chase.
Inkslinger tried to make more history in France that summer. He finished third in a prep, then suffered a fractured right front leg in the Grand Steeplechase de Paris at Auteuil. Surgery and a lengthy recovery in France followed, as did a long, healthy, productive retirement as Sanger’s show horse and foxhunter in Maryland.
Inkslinger wasn’t the first horse to win two races at the Festival, even if he will likely be the last. Plenty of others tried.
In 1966, Flyingbolt won the Champion Chase and finished third in the Champion Hurdle the next day. Chinrullah won the Champion Chase and placed fifth in the Gold Cup on consecutive days in 1980, but was disqualified from both races when his post-race samples were positive. In 1985, Boreen Prince captured the Arkle and finished sixth in the Gold Cup in 1985.
In 1996, Mysilv placed sixth in the Champion Hurdle and second in the Stayers’ Hurdle. The next year, Or Royal won the Arkle and checked in third in the Cathcart. Two years after that, Generosa won the Stakis Casinos Hurdle Final and was third in the Coral Cup.
Before the rule change, three horses attempted it in the 2000s – Quel Spirit (a fall and a sixth) in 2010, Contraband (13th and pulled up) in 2008 and Our Armageddon (pulled up in the Arkle and won the Cathcart) in 2004. Several others were declared for a second start, but ultimately did not run.
For the Ages
The inaugural Colonial Cup meeting in 1970 might rival any ever carded as the steeplechase world converged on Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.
The $100,000 Cup, created as a way to promote U.S. jump racing after rumblings about the sport being minimized in New York, lured 22 runners. The group included winner Top Bid from America. Voted champion steeplechaser that year, the Olympia gelding was bred by Wheatley Stable and raced for Lillian Phipps and trainer Mikey Smithwick. Second-placed Shadow Brook (champion of 1971) represented Stephen Clark Jr. and trainer Sidney Watters Jr. Others in the field included 1970 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner L’Escargot from Ireland, Australian star Crisp (on his way to England and even greater stardom), 1970 Gold Cup runner-up French Tan, future English star Tingle Creek (then an American star), Irish Grand National winner Herring Gull, top Swiss jumper Sacramento.
On the undercard, future Hall of Famer Tuscalee won the Hobkirk Hill allowance as part of a 37-win career. The victory total still stands as the all-time American record . . . Future Irish trainer Dermot Weld won an amateur flat race aboard Yamasoor for trainer Peter Howe . . . Future American champions and Cheltenham Festival winners Inkslinger and Soothsayer met in the 3-year-old hurdle with Inkslinger getting the decision despite giving his chief rival 12 pounds.