Sporting Life Arkle memories: Bobsline versus Noddy’s Ryde

If you belong to a specific vintage, the mere mention of the Sporting Life Arkle brings back memories of an epic renewal in 1984.

Ireland vs England, Bobsline vs Noddy’s Ryde and an absolute thriller at Prestbury Park. It is still talked about on both sides of the Irish Sea. You can relive it to your heart’s content on Youtube and, if need be, convince yourself that Britain’s hope eluded their rivals at the penultimate.

A thunderous duel – but what made it special?

“We just had the classic Cheltenham scenario; a great British hope and a great Irish hope locking horns. They also had distinctive running styles,” recalled Timeform Senior Handicapper Phil Turner.

“Noddy’s Ryde was very much in the spirit of Tingle Creek, a flamboyant, flashy frontrunner, with Bobsline the stalker, and you just had to decide who was going to come out on top.

“It wasn’t just the fact that they were two good horses, but also their training and running style that made it so fascinating.

“And they both really delivered. Noddy’s Ryde was a great sight but Bobsline joined him last and was soon ahead. His rival rallied and was no slouch coming in and they clearly pulled ahead of the pack. It was a quality race and just the kind you want to see. Why are we talking about Grundy vs Bustino all these years later? It’s a similar thing.”

It wasn’t a race that had dominated the festival’s previews that year – although they were much more low-key back then. Shudder at the thought, but even preview nights were just a twinkle in a visionary’s eyes.

“In the run-up to the meeting, one would not have had the same anticipation as today. We haven’t talked about it for months. Roll to 12 months, however, and we were when Bobsline took on Badsworth Boy in the Champion Chase; this was probably one of the most anticipated clashes in Cheltenham Festival history,” adds Turner.

“It didn’t go well, he fell out three times as the race took shape, but in terms of build-up, that’s one of the races I remember most from that time and a lot of that comes down to what he’s got did it in the Arkle last season – it was so special.

“They were both virtually unbeaten, Noddy’s Ride had crashed going down the back straight at Sandown and was in the dipper on landing two which was then raced at Newcastle and would have won there too.

“Bobsline were indeed undefeated, they were the two big hopes on either side of the Irish Sea, they brought a great deal of form to the race and there was never a losing streak. Everything went according to plan for both of them and it was a very close affair.”

Tragically, they were never to see each other again.

“The next season Noddy’s Ryde went to Exeter for the Haldon Gold Cup and was miles away from some very good horses. He beat Fifty Dollars More halfway down the straight but after jumping the final penalty he just stretched out on landing, a bit like Galopin Des Champs at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and unfortunately he broke his leg and had to be put down become,” Turner recalls.

“Bobsline stagnated a bit after that and I just wonder if that’s because of how the horses were used compared to today. He came to the Arkle when he was eight and it was his 20th career start. Compare that to El Fabiolo, say, coming to Cheltenham for his ninth career start and third over fences.

“He has already achieved a rating with Timeform four pounds higher than what Bobsline achieved by winning the Arkle.

“The hunting program for beginners is also completely different now. These horses are forced to go to better races earlier and so they post bigger numbers. Jonbon’s rating comes from beating Boothill, who had won a valuable handicap at Ascot in late October, beating another novice and that wouldn’t have happened 30 or 40 years ago.

“It’s not like they’re being wrapped in cotton wool now, it’s a whole different program. Bobsline has traveled to Cheltenham with eight novice hunt wins.

39 years after a Sporting Life Arkle classic, can Jonbon and El Fabiolo open another one this time?

“We already have a sense of rivalry between the two after a very close finish at Aintree and that adds spice to the whole thing,” said Turner.

“We also have the element of Great Britain vs Ireland and while Dysart Dynamo can’t be ruled out entirely there are other horses in there too but you think it will be perfect for a neck and neck between the two greats and hopefully the first of many down the line on fences.

“We’re a little famished with these rivalries going on and it would be great if this was a close race and the start of something special.”

So if you’re new to the sport, watch what’s happening on Tuesday very closely. You might find yourself purring from the video of the race 40 years ago to the last generation of racing fans.

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