Day trip for a 127-year tradition: Velká pardubická
There are many interesting quirks about life in the Czech Republic. One such idiosyncrasy is the fact that, every year in early October, the country hosts what is considered one of the most difficult and dangerous steeplechase horse races in the world. Who knew? Photo: Velká pardubická
This Sunday, the best jump horses in central Europe will converge upon the center of the Czech Republic to race in the 127th running of the Velká pardubická. Tens of thousands of people will be at the racetrack to watch the race live. Thousands more will watch on Czech television.
Twenty horses are entered to run in the 6.9 kilometer race over 31 obstacles. A total of 5,000,000 Kč is on the line.
Pardubice is about 2 hours away by car. The train is a convenient choice: it leaves a couple times an hour, the trip is actually faster than two hours, and the parking hassle is eliminated with an easy 1.5-kilometer walk from the Pardubice train station to the racecourse. Tickets range from 190 Kč for standing room only all the way up to 1900 Kč for great-view seats. Czech TV will start its daylong telecast at 2:45 p.m.
Click here for more information on the English-language site
The live experience of Velká pardubická is charged with electricity. The race will go to the post at 4:40 p.m. but the excitement will course through the crowd much earlier. The feeling of collective anticipation is palpable and only increases during the 10 minutes or so after the flag is dropped to start the race, while the horses sort themselves out over the expansive racecourse, and as the winner enters the homestretch for the final, exhausted push for victory.
Three French invaders have decided to travel to the Czech Republic in an attempt to outclass the locals and take the money. Virtus d´Estruval is generally considered the best horse in the field and, interestingly, he attracted jockey Jan Faltejsek to ride; Faltejsek won last year’s Velká pardubická and the third prep race for this year’s running with Charme Look. It is very uncommon — perhaps even scandalous — for a jockey to get off of a winning horse. Faltejsek also guided the filly Orphee des Blins to victories in 2012, 2013, and 2014, but he may be tempting fate with this latest maneuver. Songe d´Estruval and Urgent de Gregaine are also shipping in from France.
Defending champion Charme Look is the local hope. According to Tipsport at midweek, he is the 3.5-to-1 favorite, which means that a 100 Kč bet would result in 350 Kč winnings. He is a frontrunner who won the third qualifying race this year on August 19 by beating many of the local horses that he will face on Sunday. Marek Stromský replaces Faltejsek for Orling stable and trainer Martina Růžičková.
In order to get a feel for the history of the race, the trackside entrance to the main grandstand has a must-see life-sized statue of Josef Váňa. The 64-year-old jockey/trainer is a giant of the Czech horse racing industry and a bona fide Czech celebrity who was the star of a 2012 documentary named Váňa. He has won Velka Pardubicka as a jockey eight times, which is enough to, well, warrant a life-sized statue and a documentary film. Váňa trains four horses in this year’s race — Power Zar (GER), 8 years old; Zarif (IRE), 10; Ange Guardian (GER), 9; and No Time To Lose (GB), 8 — so there is a decent chance that he may add another triumph. His son Josef Váňa, Jr., will ride Ange Guardian.
Tipsport lists Virtus d´Estruval as the 4.5-to-1 second choice and No Time To Lose as the 6.5-to-1 third choice. Urgent de Gregaine (8-1), Zarif (8-1), Ange Guardian (8.5-1), Delight My Fire (10-1) and Songe d´Estruval (10-1) are also getting morning-line respect.
The raceday includes a total of eight races. True racing fans spend time moving between the paddock (in order to watch the horses before the race) and the racetrack (in order to watch the horses race). In between, the gamblers have several windows to place bets, although it is advisable to place bets early if you really want to lay some money down.
More casual fans and those who are just there for the experience, spend a lot of time in the backyard garden, moving through the food booths, the souvenir stands and the horse-themed temporary stores. The whole place has a festive atmosphere.