The long wait is over! The second Sunday is October has arrrived, bringing with it the high point of the Czech crosscountry steeplechasing season - the 128th running of the Velka Pardubicka with Česká pojišťovna.
We have been waiting for more than a decade for Josef Váňa junior to take over his father’s mantle and start winning the Velka Pardubicka. This year, the son and heir of the multiple Velka Parubicka record holder will jump into the vacant saddle of last year’s winner, No Time To Lose. The plan had been for last year’s winning jockey, Jan Kratochvíl, to ride the horse again, but the injuries to his right arm and hand that he suffered on the day of the September qualification race have put an end to that.
The jockey change will in no way affect the fact that No Time To Lose is a hot favourite for the 128th running of the Velka Pardubicka with Česká pojišťovna. Last year, he dealt with 18 opponents, and this year 21 challengers await him. Almost all the horses are trained in the Czech Republic, with only Vajgaros coming from across the border in Slovakia. With the exception of Sztorm, all the horses know Pardubice racecourse very well. Greg Wroblewski’s horse will be returning to Pardubice after a long 5-year break. This year, Sztorm has run three times in Poland without being beaten. Will he follow in the footsteps of Orphée de Blins, also trained by the Polish wizard?
With the absence of challengers from western Europe, this year’s field is easier to weigh up. The chances of each of the runners can be estimated on the basis of the results of the four qualification races run at Pardubice raceourse. The winner of the May race, Talent, is injured, and cannot run today. The three other qualification races were all won by horses trained by Josef Váňa senior: Ange Guardian (twice) and No Time To Lose. These two are likely to be the favourites. Ange Guardian will be ridden by Jiří Kousek, who is having a very successful season. Some people may say that the jockey is inconspicuous, but he is a very good and experienced rider who knows Pardubice racecourse very well.
After the two faourites, there are some very interesting and ambitious horses. Since last winter, Hegnus has been with trainer Radek Holčák. Tzigane du Berlais has undeniably shown several times that he is talented. Vicody last year won the Labe Stakes, the second most important race on Velka Pardubicka day. Josef Váňa’s quartet of runners, apart from the two favourites, contains the reliable Zarif, and Theophilos, a horse that Josef Bartoš has compared with Decent Fellow, which he rode to victory in the Velka in 2006.
Delight My Fire finished 3rd in last year’s race, but has not produced much this year. Nevertheless, there is justification for hoping that she will finish somewhere in the prizemoney, which is offered for the first 7 past the post. The three 13-year-olds, Nikas, Kasim and Universe of Gracie, all have rich experience in the race. However, it is impossible to turn back time, even for horses, and it will be hard for these older horses to compete on a fast track with horses in their prime. 2015 Velka Pardubicka winner Ribelino also belongs in this category. He has lost his way since that triumph, and his form has been unconvincing.
For years it has been said that Pardubice is a one-of-a-type racecourse, and that only a jockey who knows it very well can be successful here. This year, however there will be a number of jockeys from abroad in the saddle, making their début in the most widely followed horse race in the country. How they deal with the special features of the course may have a big impact on the way the race turns out.
The Velka Pardubicka is the climax of the day’s racing, but the other races on the card will also be very interesting. Above all we should mention the VCES Labe Stakes, over 5200 metres. Two French-trained horses will be running in this race. Sarika, which won the Labe Stakes in 2013, is returning to Pardubice after an interval of five years. Unbrin de l’Isle is also an interesting horse, as he finished 4th in the Crystal Cup race at Craon over 6000 metres. This is a result that would entitle the horse to run in the Velka Pardubicka. Among the local horses, the strongest competition for the French horses may come from Power Zar, which ran in last year‘s Velka, and from Eldorado, which qualified for this year‘s renewal.
Potential runners in future Velka Pardubickas will run in the Vltava Stakes, over 4500 metres. This race was won in 2016 by No Time To Lose. This year, 6-y-o Modřín and French-bred 5-y-o Vernois will attract attention. Izynka has on several occasions shown her class, and another horse with ambition is Delifo, trained by František Holčák.
Wishing you a pleasant afternoon out, and good luck in your contest with the bookmaker!