The vertigo-inducing Taxis Ditch is the Czech Republic’s version of the formidable Becher’s Brook in the Grand National. However, it is arguably an even more unusual obstacle than its Aintree equivalent and arguably the most fearsome to be jumped in steeplechasing across the globe.
The 2018 race took place on Sunday (14 October) and was won by Czech jockey Jan Faltejsek, while British jockey Tom Garner finished third.
The Taxis Ditch was named after a 19th Century prince, who persuaded the race organisers to keep the huge fence in the Velka Pardubice instead of omitting it through fear. It comes very early on in the 4m2f Velka Pardubice race — a winding cross-country contest including banks, water ditches, rails and hedges — at only fence four, which means, although they have little time to warm up for it, the horses are fresh and not tired when they jump it.
At around five foot in size, the hedge is a similar height to that of Becher’s Brook, but it is the yawning ditch on the landing side that is the most terrifying aspect, reaching out four metres behind the hedge.
Jockey Andrew Glassonbury enjoyed his first spin around the famous race this year aboard a Czech raider, finishing a commendable ninth.
Having also ridden over the Grand National fences at Aintree, Andrew told H&H that, although both Becher’s Brook and Taxis are the same size in height, they are, in fact, very different fences to ride.
“They are both huge hedges, but with Becher’s Brook you are most concerned about the sheer drop afterwards — whereas with Taxis, it is the distance you have to make up to get to the other side of the very wide ditch on the landing side,” he said.
“You want to build up as much speed as possible to make up that distance, that will get you cleanly over the ditch. My plan coming off the bend beforehand was to sit still, meet the fence on a short stride and flick through the top of the hedge. But, three strides out I could tell we were actually on a long one and he stood off it, almost jumping it too well.
“I didn’t dare look down! It feels like you are hanging in the air for ages — like you are jumping into outer space. They put down a line of sawdust on the landing side of the ditch, which is just in your peripheral view as you are jumping. We landed just on the sawdust and he pecked a bit, but luckily he stuck his neck up for me.”
H&H’s racing correspondent, Marcus Armytage, won the Grand National in 1990 and also had a number of rides around the Velka Pardubice during his time as an amateur jockey.
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In the past, he has described the Taxis Ditch as “the love child of Becher’s Brook and The Chair, on steroids” and he also wrote about the fear he had of Taxis: “The prospect of facing only one fence ever woke me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat — the Taxis.”
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