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Velká Pardubická: The short history of a long and challenging race

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Its 'Taxis' ditch is dreaded the world over (and no, the above photo shows the Irish Bank, the jockey is just hailing a taxi). The Velká Pardubická is surely the most gruelling cross-country steeplechase of them all. Now an intrinsic stop in the Crystal Cup series (the circuit takes in neighbouring Poland, and also includes the Gran Premio Merano and Grote Steeplechase van Vlaanderen), the race started life in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The presence of English trainers, along with a vibrant hunting scene, led to a permanent course springing up in 1856, and the first edition of the Velká Pardubická went under starter's orders in 1874. Countess Lata Brandisová is the only female jockey to have taken the spoils, running clear with Norma in 1937, while Josef Váňa Sr lifted the trophy an astonishing eight times before he embarked on a training career.

With the course reconfigured in the 1990s to accommodate a new grandstand, the contest is now staged annually on the first Sunday in October. Open to six-year-olds and over, it runs beside an airport on the outskirts of Pardubice, an industrial town in the central Czech countryside. Embarking on a twisting journey of just over four miles, and incorporating over thirty obstacles, runners must navigate the terrain of turf and furrow, set amongst well manicured parkland.

Czech horses have lasted the course of at least one qualifying race, while a splattering of pointers and foreign trained horses arrive on a pilgrimage from exploits abroad. They supplement the field, often with fearless visiting jockeys attached. Few, though, have come close to trumping the locals. Železník denied them four times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Chris Collins and Charlie Mann are the only British jockeys to have gone home victorious: in 1973 and 1995 respectively.


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