Take a look at the Czech Republic’s fast and furious 2014 Velka Pardubicka — won by the 12-year-old mare Orphee Des Blins for the third time in a row. Marcus Armytage takes us through the action
Pardubice is such a unique course, it is no wonder there are so many multiple winners in its history.
Unlike Aintree — which hosts its western European counterpart, the Grand National — it is not a handicap, so previous winners are not handicapped out of winning again and again.
Last Sunday (12 October 2014) Orphee Des Blins, a 12-year-old mare trained by Greg Wroblewski, became the first mare to win the Czech Republic’s famous race for the third time in a row with Jan Faltejsek on board.
She made all the running and her biggest danger in the middle part of the race was not Pardubice’s assortment of cross-country obstacles but her escort of loose horses. She is ideal for the course combining brute strength with a nimbleness belying her size.
Coming back on to the racecourse with half a mile to run, there was a bunch of horses on her tail but it was Al Jaz, the length runner-up, who gave her most to think about and pressed her very hard.
It was Faltejsek’s strength and experience, much of it gained in the north of England, which got him home. This was close, and it is hard to see her returning to join Zeleznik, the only four-times winner, in 12 months when she will be 13.
Age is not always a barrier in this race. Josef Vana, 61, who has won it eight times as a jockey and “retired” after his ride last year, obviously treats his retirement like Treve and was back for another crack.
This time his mount Tiumen, a three-times winner himself, never looked like being in the shake-up although he completed the course down the field.
Taking British horses has always been a challenge. Charlie Mann (1995) — along with Chris Collins (1973) the only Englishman to win it in recent times — sent his latest challenger, a recent Irish import Lambro.
The gelding, ridden by Mark Grant, was brought to a standstill by a faller at the infamous Taxis and sat down at the last water just as he was trying to make some ground from the back.
“He was a bit unlucky,” said Mann. “He was in the right place jumping the Taxis but a horse fell right in front of him. Essentially he didn’t jump well enough though he had a good cut at the hedges.”
I rode in a 1ft6in hunter trial on Sunday — pairs with my daughter — with rather more success and considerably fewer nerves than I ever had in the Pardubice showpiece. But I like tuning in to watch the race to see old friends.
I used to ride against Vana in my day so it is always good to know he is still alive when I see him jocked up for the Velka Pardubicka. This was the 124th running of the race and he must have contested about 50 of them.
I also rode in it against the amateur rider/trainer Martina Ruzickova in 1991 when I was 27.
Having retired for a long time was back for a seventh attempt having never previously got round — on a horse which was still a maiden after 59 chases. For a long way she was in second before fading late on but I believe she completed the course this time.
Don’t miss this week’s full racing report in Horse & Hound magazine (16 October 2014)