Big Race History: Velka Pardubicka
Sixteen (far left) is led over the Taxis in 2008 by Amant Gris (second left) and Ivoire De Beaulieu (right)
Won in modern times by English jockeys Chris Collins, aboard Stephen's Society (1973), and Charlie Mann, who partnered It's A Snip (1995), the Velka Pardubicka is not only one of the most extraordinary races in the world but is a throwback to the origins of the sport. Malcolm Pannett investigates...
"The race resumed in 1920, two years after Bohemia had been renamed Czechoslovakia, with Jonathon finishing alone in a time so slow he was disqualified as the judge had left his position"
The track over which the Velka Pardbicka is run, like the races over the cross country courses at Punchestown and Cheltenham, harks back to the early days of steeplechasing.
The rise in public interest in races over obstacles in the middle of the nineteenth century led to the creation of circuits replacing the linear events where riders endeavoured to be the first to reach a distant but visible landmark (normally the steeple of a church) taking in all the natural obstacles along the way.
Those events had been followed by spectators on horseback with observers on foot missing out on much of the action.
In England Tom Coleman introduced a turning point in to his St Alban's race, the obelisk in Wrest Park, so that the start and the finish could be seen in the same place. William Lynn, the father of the Grand National, went one better building a grandstand.
Both Coleman and Lynn, as hotel proprietors, had also realised that a captive crowd would buy more beverages from their nearby hostelries.
The new circuits incorporated the existing divisions between fields, such as stone walls, banks and stretches of water, to provide a challenging test for horse and rider over both turf and plough.
In Bohemia the same developments led to the inuguration of the Velka Parubicka. First run in 1874 it was won by Fantome partnered by the English rider Mr W Sayers who also finished 5th in the controversial Grand National of 1885 where the 1883-winner Zoedone, owned and ridden by the Bohemian-born Count Kinsky, was poisoned to avoid Spring Double liabilities.
The second running was also won by an English jockey with Mr Herbert steering Brigand to success. There was no race the following year and when the Pardubicka re-emerged in 1877 it was on a different course which included the Taxis for the first time.
Brigand won again and then made it three in 1878. Since then Lady Anne (1891, 1894 and 1896), who was also disqualified in 1892; Epigraf (1957 to 1959); Sagar (1981 to 1983); and Peruan (1998-2000) have emulated the feat, while Zeleznik (1987 to 1989 and 1991) went one better.
The Taxis, which is jumped as fence four in the Velka Pardubicka, is a massive hedge with a drop and a ditch on the landing side that claimed hundreds of victims until it was modified in 1994. In fact the course was so formidable that in 1899 there was no winner as none of the three starters could complete the course. And only two finished in 1913 when Dick Turpin won what turned out to be the last running before the First World War. The race resumed in 1920, two years after the country had been renamed Czechoslovakia, with Jonathon finishing alone in a time so slow he was disqualified as the judge had left his position.
There then followed periods where political events were mirrored in the results of the race. In the 1930s German horses dominated the race in the build up to the Second World War while Russian horses did the same in the run up to the 1968 invasion.
In 1990, the 100th running, Libentina was successful in the first running following the fall of the communist regime and Rigoletto (1993) was the first to win in the newly-christened Czech Republic - although the race was marred by the over-zealous vet who withdrew eight horses in the newly instituted pre-race examination - including 1992-winner Quirinus.
Even after the alterations of 1994 the course remains true to the origins of the sport with about a quarter of the distance being run on the equivalent of plough with a variety of obstacles including Irish and drop banks, in-and-out doubles, a stone wall, the snake ditch, Popkovice's Turn and Havel's Jump as well as the Taxis.
There is also Popler's Jump named after Captain Rudolph Popler who won on Gyi Lovam in 1930. The pair went on to put up a bold show in the following year's Grand National being brought down in a melee at second Becher's. Poplar remounted but the pair came to grief again at the final ditch. In the 1932 Padubicka Popler and Gyi Lovam finished second to Remus however in the next race on the card, the Kinsky Memorial, Poplar was killed when his mount Ella fell at the third fence. The timber rail was subsequently named Poplar's Jump in his honour and is jumped as number 14 in the Pardubicka.
25 Year Ago - With Sagar, the winner for the last three years, on the sidelines the way was left clear for Erot, the previous year's third, to come to the fore. There was a pile-up at the Taxis and only four of the 16 runners emerged intact. After Jawan fell at fence 10A and Blistr exited at the final water it was a straight match between Erot and Festival, the latter representing the connections of Sagar. The former won at the expense of the local horse to make his own small piece of history as the last Soviet Union winner. Jawan was remounted once to finish third while Gabr was remounted twice to finish fourth and last.
10 years ago - The second leg of what would be a hat-trick of wins for Peruan. The main danger was the Sean Connery-owned Risk Of Thunder who was due to be ridden by Ruby Walsh until he broke his leg earlier in the day when his mount had been forced into a running rail. Ken Whelan took over and made much of the running accompanied by Dennistownthriller, the horse he had originally been booked to ride. Peruan though made steady progress at the business end of the race and was well placed entering the home straight where Risk Of Thunder led. Peruan produced the better finishing burst and in the end ran out a comfortable victor breaking the course record in the process.
Five years ago - Registana won for second time beating Retreiver by nine lengths. There was plenty of grief and the leading group consisting of Registana, Retriever and Maskul spent a fair amount of time avoiding loose horses. Having successfully negotiated all the hazards Registana pulled away with Decent Fellow coming through to take third place from Maskul. The mare was sent off favourite to follow up in a cross-country race at Cheltenham but took the wrong course three fences from home when three lengths clear.
Last Year - Sixteen, who had beaten 2006-winner Decent Fellow by seven lengths the previous season, made it two-in-a-row despite finishing second. Ferdy Murphy's Ivoire De Beaulieu, ridden by Keith Mercer, made much of the running but, along with Amant Gris, was forced the wrong side of a marker by a horse that promptly fell at the next. Some of the local jockeys seeing what was happening took dramatic avoiding action. Amant Gris went on to win what was a duel of the greys in the home straight by two-and-a-half-lengths but was inevitably disqualified in favour of Sixteen with Hirsch promoted to second and Juventus to third.