The Velka Pardubicka 2019
In around 6 hours time I fly to Prague to take in this year’s big race. I’ve been to Prague a few times before but never for the racing. I’m going with a few friends, including Martin (@quevega – for those of you on twitter), who’s kindly written the following article.
There’s a bit of history, a look at some of the runners and riders and even some tourist advice if you’re making the trip! 🙂
I hope you enjoy reading through this as much as I did. I’ll try and ‘tweet’ a bit through the weekend from the track, signal allowing, @Josh_HW – and you can follow those either on twitter or use my twitter feed to the right hand side of this blog (when on desktop/tablet)
Over to Martin…
First held in 1874 the Velka Pardubicka is arguably continental Europe’s most famous steeplechase. Incorporating various hedges, water jumps, banks, doubles and the famous Taxis which comes up as the fourth fence in the race.
There has been plenty of British and Irish success over the years and with the race and course based loosely on that of Aintree’s Grand National course the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, renewals were popular with riders from this side of the channel.
In the post-war era however the race has been dominated by local riders with only Christopher Collins, who partnered Stephen’s Society to victory in 1973 and current Rules trainer Charlie Mann who rode It’s A Snip when he triumphed in 1995, have provided Britain or Ireland with a victory in the past 50 years.
With regards this year’s renewal… after a run of little interest horse wise from UK trainers the David Pipe-trained Rathlin Rose, a winner at Ascot earlier in the year, is set to represent the UK with James Best taking the ride.
There will be further British and Irish interests in the race with Andrew Glassonbury partnering Ribelino, the winner via disqualification of this race back in 2015 while Tom Garner is set to ride last years third Stretton and Leighton Aspell the injury prone Talent, who won the final qualification race for this contest last month on his first start in well over 12 months.
Josef Vana is perhaps the most famous name associated with the race having ridden the winner of the race on no fewer than eight occasions, including four times on the great Zeleznik in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Now a trainer, Vana will be well represented in races over the two days and holds strong claims in the main race itself through Theophilos, Ange Guardian, Mazhilis and Zarif with the second named the winner of two qualifying races in 2019.
Last years winner Tzigane Du Berlais heads the market with the local firms for this year’s renewal and he has run decent races on both starts this campaign finishing runner-up to Ange Guardian in the first qualifier in May and fifth to Talent last month. While on the face of it some will have been disappointed with last months performance it’s worth noting he has been targeted at this race since last October and with regular jockey Jan Faltejsek, who used to ride in the UK for George Charlton, in the saddle he has the services of a top jockey.
Chief market rivals are two of the Vana pair in Theophilos and Ange Guardian but both of those have stamina concerns with the former yet to race over further than 5800m – he finished runner-up over here last month – and the latter having managed a best effort of second in 2016 from three attempts at this race (he also finished fifth in 2017 and sixth last year). Expect to see Ange Guardian in the green and yellow colours with the big white face racing towards the rear in the early stages.
Talent has arguably been unlucky in his career so far in that it has been beset by injury with the gelding having had just three starts since winning a 5000m Grade 3 cross-country event at Merano in June 2017. He has however proven himself to be a classy performer for trainer Hana Kabelkova and he impressed in winning the fourth qualification race here last month.
Like many Czech horses these days Mazhilis has made many a trip to Italy in recent years with the gelding notching up five victories at Merano including in a 5000m Grade 1 chase in June 2016. The Josef Vana-trained Country Reel gelding has placed in Grade 1 company since and while he has been beaten in lowly category four races at Pardubice this season he put in a good performance when third in the qualifier here last month and is a notable runner upped in trip with Jan Kratochvil who took this race two years ago set to ride.
Player was put up as the nap of the meeting in 2017 with my comment being “ if there’s a future Velka horse in the race restricted to five-year-old’s then he is it.” And while Mahony also lines up from that five-year-old only contest preference would be for Player who was paced in the first qualifier here in the spring. Player sprung something of a surprise when dropping in grade to defeat last years Velka second Hegnus here last month and while he is likely to hit flat spots once more he looks likely to appreciate this step up in trip.
Delight My Fire finished third in this race two years ago but hasn’t looked the same horse since, failing to finish here 12 months ago and recording her most recent victory in a category one 5200m cross-country race at Slusovice last November.
The dark horse in the field is undoubtedly Beau Rochelais who was purchased by owners DS Pegas, who also had multiple winner Orphee Des Blins for trainer Cestmir Olehla, after the gelding qualified for this race with a second place finish in a cross-country contest at Le Touquet just over a month ago.
Of those at bigger prices I always thought that Dulcar De Sivola had shown enough in his chase victory in France at Nantes in October 2017 to make up into a useful cross-country horse in the Czech Republic but sadly he’s not really got his act together since finishing runner-up in a category three 4400m race on his first Czech start in May 2018.
On the undercard of Sunday’s race, the Cena Labe is the feature, generally a race that sees some of the best young cross-country horses go up against one another with it being referred to as a “novices Velka” in some quarters. It’s far from being as great a test as the big race itself but looking at the local markets it plays host to the best bet, the NAP if you will of the day with the eight-year-old Lombargini and Jan Faltejsek looking capable of taking what should effectively be a match with Marcus Aurelius following a good third place finish here in August.
There has been plenty of talk about restrictions on gambling in the Czech Republic in recent years with punters no longer able to just walk into a Fortuna betting shop on the Prague high street, or more popularly a metro station, and being able to place a bet so visitors have been restricted to betting with the on course firm Betino, who’s margin is something that Dick Turpin might have aspired to had he run a book on racing.
There are still some doubts about whether punters will be able to bet with Betino without registering and I have been getting mixed messages in this regard but I’m hopeful that there will be no issues, particularly with it being the biggest race meeting of the year and all eyes on Pardubice.
For anyone who hasn’t been I can recommend the first day of the meeting as a brilliant day out with competitive racing and a wide range of beers and local food to sample. It’s also a great day for attending if keen to get your bearings with regards to the stands, the track itself, parade ring, toilets etc.
The first race on the Saturday is due off at 12:00 with the opener being an amateur riders Flat race which should go to Epauled and Jindrich Fabris, followed by a pony race which I’m no expert on and there’ll be no betting on but would expect Kessy to run well despite being the second smallest pony in the field.
The rest of the Saturday card is made up of handicap chases over a regulation course, but newcomers will find it hard to tell the difference between those races and the cross-country events and also hurdles with British riders Sam Lee, David Prichard and Nathan Rahman lining up alongside Swede Elliot Ohgren, American Mark Galligan plus Tereza Polesna, Marcel Altenburger, Frenchman Gonzague Cottreau and also Kim Stern in a Fegentri riders hurdle race.
Ohgren’s mount Gontchar won the Czech Derby at Velka Chuchle (Prague) back in 2016 but missed the whole of 2017 and was a beaten odds-on favourite when making his hurdling debut last month.
The first race, a category two cross-country chase is due off at 11:30am with the main race the last one on the card at 16:40, though due to the procedures and parades etc. it’s invariably a good 10 or 15 minutes late off.
Expect a dash for the trains back to Prague afterwards so it’s likely to be standing room only on most but there’ll be a good atmosphere at the track and plenty of people in attendance.
Things To Do
Anyone interested in taking in true Czech sporting culture should try and get to a game of ice hockey with the main team in Prague, Sparta, playing at home on Tuesday evening against HC Verva Litvinov at the O2 Arena (Ceskomoravska on Line B of the metro) which is very easy to get to from all parts of Prague.
I can also recommend a trip to Saints Cyril and the Methodius Cathedral which has the story of Operation Anthropoid, which is well worth reading up on, and also the Museum Of Communism is a great place to visit in the middle of the city.
I usually stay near Andel and there are plenty of good restaurants there, in particular Kobe Fusion restaurant does some great dishes, and for those after something more familiar there’s plenty of pizza and pasta places plus a TGI Friday’s, McDonalds and a KFC in the area.
I hope anyone heading out for the big meeting enjoys the two days and if you see me do say hello (probably be wearing a brown/orange jacket)
My thanks to Martin for that. I probably owe him a few beers now.
ps. here’s the course >>>