Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase

Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase

Bernard Kenny, Correspondent

It’s approaching Sunday 13 October in the Czech Republic and 21 runners will be facing the starter in the world famous 129th Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase.

President of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic Dr Jiri Charvat is very ambitious of his 2018 winner Tzigane de Berlais, who will be again ridden by five-times winning jockey Jan Faltejsek.

“We bought Tzigane as a foal in obstacles. It has its assumptions,” said Dr Charvat. “But he is also obstinate and we have a lot of good horses against us. It’s hard to win when it’s expected of you.

The 7yo French bred Tzigane due Belais gave trainer Pavet Tuma his first success in the race, scoring by 3 lengths ahead of the remaining 11 finishers of 20 original starters.

This year British trainer David Pipe will have his 11yo Rathlin to ridden by James Best, duel Aintree Grand National winner Leighton Aspell will be on Talent, Andrew Glassonbury on Ribelino and Thomas Garner riding Stretton.
Also known as the Grand Pardubice Steeplechase, the Czech Grand National, it is run over 6.9 km or 4miles 2½ furlongs with horse and rider contesting 31 fences.

With such names as the Irish Bank, English Jump, Big Water Jump, Havel’s Jump, Water Course and Snake Ditch, the Popler’s Jump is named after jockey Rudolf Popler who died there in 1932.

The Velky Taxisuv Prikop or Great Taxis Ditch is the symbol of the race, and is named after Count Egun Thurn-Taxis who insisted that the fence should remain in the race from its introduction in 1874.

In being the biggest fence jumped anywhere in the world, it is jumped only once during the running of the Pardubicka, and not attempted during training or qualification races.

The Taxis fence hedge was lowered to 140cm in 1993 and is now as high as it is wide. The ditch was filled-in to one metre deep and horse have to jump over an eight-metre distance.

The course itself is across turf and a quarter ploughed fields with three water jumps and a stream that was so deep that horses and jockeys who fell could be up to their necks in water.

With a race record time of 8min 56sec the Pardubicka is nicked named The Devil’s Race for many a jockey coming to grief, for in 2008 Amant Gris was disqualified in taking the wrong route.

None of the 24 horses that have won the Pardubice have been successful in attempting to win the Grand National at Aintree.

Today the Velka has a qualifying criteria making the standard of entry higher. In addition, the race now has four qualification races that are run at Pardubice over the summer.

Zeleznik is the Pardubice’s most successful winning four-times in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991 and was always ridden by Josef Vana, who was the most successful jockey in winning eight times from 28 rides.

In turning to training Josef Vana is now the Pardubice most successful trainer in winning the race 10 times, and a statue of him unveiled in 2010.

In 1937 Lata Brandir was the first woman to win the Velka Pardubicka by 7 lengths on the mare Norma. Previously she was the first women in 1927 to ride in the race, finishing fifth after falling and remounting five times.

First run on 4 November 1874 with 14 starters the winner Fantom was ridden by Englishman George Sayers, with his owner Count von Cramm receiving 11,700 florins in prizemoney.

Run on the second Sunday in October, the Verga Pardublice was not run during the two world wars and the 1968 Russian invasion, and has been abandoned twice due to frost and snow.

Pardubice is around 100km east of Prague in the East Bohemia region of the Czech Republic and has a horse represented in the city’s crest of arms.