Brief history of Velká pardubická

Velká pardubická was formerly referred to as the toughest steeplechase race on the continent. From a certain point of view this might be true, in any case it is a race with long tradition, history of which is more than interesting; a race, which has its specifics and charm; a race, which is a pinnacle not only for Czech riders. On all accounts, it is a social and sporting event with the longest tradition in the Czech Republic. When first soccer league was established, the history of Velká pardubická was already some 50 years long.

It was first run in 1874. However, races had already been organized in Pardubice and surrounding localities several decades before. From the very beginning, Pardubice was known to the racing world, after all many trainers and jockeys from England, the cradle of turf, worked in Central Europe.

A racecourse in places where races are run today was officially founded in 1856, when then Association in order to organize races in Bohemia asked Pardubice to yield pastures together with the Cvrčkov grove to create a racecourse. The racecourse has had its contemporary form since the first post-war years. Formerly, horses had been running up to Popkovice and also behind grandstands, in the area where the parking lot is today. After the Second World War, a military airport has been established here and some estates have been taken by the army.

The course of the race has changed several times during its history, most recently in 1998, when the final stage of the race was run on the main track in the opposite direction for the first time. The finish was moved and the course turned to the right hand mainly because a new grandstand was built.

The main track around is 2,200 metres long, the course of Velká pardubická is some 6,900 metres long. In the first two years, the length was between 5,600 and 6,400 metres, then it had settled at 6,400 metres from 1880, and only since 1952, the course has been 6,900 metres long.

Horses must get over 31 fences in total. The Taxis is the most famous and it is also one of the most difficult fences in the world. The course includes some other tough fences, which often decide about winning or losing for individual competitors. These fences include the Irish Bank, the Popkovice Fence, the French Fence, the Snake Ditch, the Big Water Jump, the Garden Fences, the Big English Fence and Havel's Fence. The surface of the course is mainly grassy, parts run through ploughed fields, the amount of which has been significantly reduced in some periods. In the first decades, almost half of the race was run over ploughed fields. This was later reduced to about one third, and now it is about one quarter. Some of the fences have also been modified in order to raise the level of safety for horses and riders. Most recently, the biggest changes have been made to water jumps, where the original natural stream now runs through concrete troughs. Safety has been improved, but the difficulty of the race has suffered. In the past, the Big Water Jump often used to decide the winner, but nowadays it is easy to jump and horses can even run through it. The Taxis Ditch

 

 

 

has also been modified. The ditch has been made shallower, but the basic parameters of the fence have not been changed. Thus, potential unfortunate competitors do not fall so deeply at least.

Since 1874, Velká pardubická has been run 121 times. The next running will be held on Saturday, October 13th. The race has failed to take place only during the two World Wars, and once due to the weather conditions, when it started to freeze the day before and then snow fell. In 1968, the race was not held due to the political events of that year.

The first winner was the French-bred FANTÔME, ridden by English jockey George Sayers, in some periods mentioned with surname Sears. The list of winners contains the names of total of 89 horses and 78 riders.

The most successful horse in the history of the race is chestnut ŽELEZNÍK, the only horse that managed to win the race four times, from 1987 to 1989 and in 1991. Seven horses won the race three times: BRIGAND in 1875, 1877 and 1878, LADY ANNE in 1891, 1894 and 1896, EPIGRAF in 1957–1959, KOROK in 1969, 1971 and 1972, SAGAR in 1981–1983, PERUÁN in 1998–2000, and most recently TIUMEN, which triumphed in the last three years. There have been thirteen double winners, including white mare SIXTEEN, which will probably try to join three-time winners this autumn.

Among jockeys, Josef Váňa leads with eight wins, four of them with ŽELEZNÍK, one with VRONSKY in 1997, and in the last three years in the saddle of TIUMEN. Václav Chaloupka has a collection of four triumphs, three of them with KOROK and one with VÁCLAV in 1978. The outstanding German jockey Peter Gehm also won four times, in 2001 he joined forces with CHALCO, one year later he won in the saddle of MASKUL, and in the next two years he won with REGISTANA. Peter Gehm is the only jockey to have won the race in four successive years.

Six riders have won the race three times. The first of them was Austro-Hungarian amateur Hector Baltazzi in the early years. Later, the same success was enjoyed by a trio of English riders Richard Harry Fletcher, Thomas Buckenham and Edward Geoghegan. In the early 1980s, Pavel Liebich won three times with SAGAR, and Zdeněk Matysík was victorious with PERUÁN in the last three years of the 20th century. Fifteen riders have won twice, the most recent being jockey Josef Bartoš in 2006 and 2008, when he joined forces with DECENT FELLOW and SIXTEEN.

In the course of history, a number of women have competed in the race. The first was Lata Brandisová, who even managed to win the race with mare NORMA in 1937, the last running before the Second World War. In the 1960s, Eva Palyzová was a regular competitor, who finished on very good positions in 1965 and 1971, taking second place with Cavalet a Metál. Other women to ride in the race were Charlotte Brew from England, Jana Nová, Renata Charvátová, Martina Růžičková and Lucie Baluchová, the last seventh amazon so far, who took third place in 1997 with Gretty.

 

 

 

 

The course record is held by SIXTEEN, which finished the whole 2008 race in 8 minutes 58.99 seconds, and was the first horse to run under nine minutes. SIXTEEN is the first white mare to have won the race, which she has now done twice.

In the post-war era, when the course underwent principal changes, best time was attributed to French ROYAL DE LUNE, the winner from 1947. His time of 10 minutes 30.3 seconds was later beaten in 1961 by GRIFEL, who finished the race in 10 minutes 21.3 seconds, it was improved the very next year by GABOJ to 10 minutes 5.1 seconds, and English STEPHEN´S SOCIETY won in 1973 in 10 minutes 4.9 seconds.

In 1987, ŽELEZNÍK clocked the time of 9 minutes and 56.13 seconds, and this was the first race run under 10 minutes. Already three years later, LIBENTÍNA won the anniversary 100th Velká pardubická in 9 minutes 49.4 seconds, but this record lasted only until 1996, when CIPÍSEK won in 9 minutes 35.00 seconds.

Then, this time was beaten twice by PERUÁN, who finished in 9 minutes 16.0 in 1999, and REGISTANA, which recorded the time of 9 minutes 15.48 seconds in 2004.

In 2005, MASKUL completed Velká pardubická in 9 minutes 11.21 seconds, and above mentioned SIXTEEN became new record holder in 2008. In the same year, disqualified AMANT GRIS recorded even better time (8 minutes 58.49 seconds). It was a very fast race, even MR LAND, which came last, had better time than previous record holder Maskul (9 minutes 9.32 seconds).

However, the time of French record holder from 1947 comes from a period, when the course of the race was only 6,400 metres long.

Although the recorded time proves winner's qualities, it very often depends on weather and track conditions, and individual years were also affected by various course changes. Therefore, winner's time is more or less statistical and no serious conclusions can be drawn from it.

In the early years, there were few runners, often only about five. Once there were just three valiant participants. Horses were mainly foreign-bred, mainly English, German and Hungarian. The same is true for jockeys. That's why the list of winners features English, German and Italian names in the first decades. The race was not won by Czech rider until 1902, when Ulrich Rosak (apparently Oldřich Rosák) enjoyed success.

In addition to the names of jockeys Josef Váňa and Václav Chaloupka, who are still active figures in Czech horseracing, the list of winners contains famous names like Rudolf Popler, native of Vysoké Mýto, who tragically lost his life at Pardubice racecourse, Lata Brandisová, Miloš Svoboda, native of Přelouč and historian of Velká pardubická, Volodja Prachov, Russian trainer who recently worked in Pardubice, and also František Vítek, who would later become a multiple champion in flat races. A special mention should be made of Englishman George Williamson, who is the only jockey to have won both Velká pardubická and the Grand National in Liverpool.

Josef Váňa is also the most successful trainer of all time. His horses have won nine times, namely CIPÍSEK, VRONSKY, CHALCO, DECENT FELLOW, 2x SIXTEEN and 3x TIUMEN. Dr Čestmír Olehla has recorded six wins as a trainer, four times with ŽELEZNÍK and twice with

 

 

REGISTANA. František Holčák has five triumphs on his account (VALENCIO, LIBENTÍNA, RIGOLETTO, ERUDIT and MASKUL). Four-time winners are Václav Čermák(3x SAGAR, 1x FESTIVAL) and Soviet trainer Ivan Avdějev (2x GRIFEL, GABOJ, PRIBOJ).

It is hard to trace trainers of winning horses in the pre-war era and the early history of the race, in some years they were not even mentioned. Englishman George Herbert won the race in 1875 as a rider with Brigando, later became a trainer and is apparently a five-time champion in this position, because Victoria won two and Lady Anne three races.

Václav Chaloupka is also a four-time winning trainer, because in the years when Korok was running he did not have a trainer licence, and was mentioned as "owner" in a box for trainer name, which was common practice from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Lenka Horáková is the first successful woman trainer, her fated horse PERUÁN became a three-time winner.

Jockey Josef Váňa also has the highest number of race participations, he has 25 starts; Václav Chaloupka 18, Richard Harry Fletcher 17, Dušan Andrés 17, and from still active riders, Pavel Složil has ten starts.

As regards four-legged competitors, the highest number of 8 starts is shared by ŽELEZNÍK, SALVÁTOR and FLANG; LADY ANNE, MASKUL and DECENT FELLOW started in 7 races.

Hopefully, the very long list of winners will again be enriched with some famous name this year.

 

Pardubice, October 4th, 2012

Milan Tůma

 

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