History of the Velká Pardubická
It used to be written that the Velká Pardubická is the toughest steeplechase in continental Europe, and in a sense this is true. For sure, it is a race with a long tradition and a highly interesting history. The race has its own special features and its own magic. It is the highpoint for any Czech jockey, who will dream, if not of winning the race, at least of riding in it. It is the social and sporting event with the longest tradition in the Czech lands. When our football league started up, the Velká had already existed for 50 years.
The Velká Pardubická was first run in 1874. For several decades prior to this, races had been held in and around Pardubice. From the beginning, Pardubice was known throughout the horseracing world, since a number of trainers and jockeys from England, the cradle of the turf, came to work in central Europ
The racecourse in its present location was established in 1856. The course first took its present-day form in the years just after the second world war. Before that, the course reached right out to Popkovice, and the horses also ran behind the grandstands, where the car park now is. After the end of the second world war, a military airport was set up there, and some of the land was taken over by the army.
Over the years, the course of the race has been changed several times, most recently in 1998, when there was a change in the direction in which the final phase of the race was run. The repositioning of the winning post and the change to a right-handed run-in was connected with the location of the new grandstand. The course for flat racing and hurdles is 2200 metres in length, and the Velká Pardubická is run over a distance of about 6900 metres. The horses have to negotiate a total of 31 obstacles. The most famous of these is the Taxis Ditch, which is one of the most demanding jumps in the world. There are some other difficult jumps, which can often be decisive for the success or failure of the runners. These are the Irish Bank, the Popkovice Fence, the French Fence, the Snake Ditch, the Big Water Jump, the Garden Fences, the Big English Fence, and Havel’s Fence.
The surface of the course is mainly grassy, but parts run through ploughed fields, the amount of which has varied and mainly been reduced. In the first decades, almost half of the race was run over ploughed fields. This was later reduced to about one third, and now it is about one quarter. Some of the obstacles have also been adjusted in order to raise the level of safety for horses and riders. More recently, the biggest changes have been in the water jumps, where the original natural stream now runs through concrete troughs. Safety has been improved, but the difficulty of the race has “suffered” as a result. In the past, the Big Water Jump often used to be decisive for the outcome of the race, but nowadays it is easy to jump and a horse can even run through it. The Taxis Ditch has also been adjusted. The ditch has been made shallower, but the basic parameters of the fence have not been changed.
Since 1874, Velká Pardubická has been run 122 times. The race has failed to take place only during the two world wars, and once due to the weather conditions, when it started to freeze the day before and then snow fell. In 1968, the race was not held due to the political events in the summer of that year.
The first winner was the French-bred FANTOME/PHANTOME, ridden by Sayers. The list of winners contains the names of total of 89 horses and 78 riders.