Martin Cáp: Human Memory has its limitations – Part 2

Exactly 568 pages, more than a hundred historic press cuttings and documentary photographs, bustling work over a period of 25 years, which has morphed into an exceptional book, not only in terms of its extent and range, but also with its bold graphic conception. What led to the publication of Dostihy o modrou stuhu (Races for the Blue Riband), which maps out the history of the most prestigious flat race that every Czech jockey, trainer and racehorse owner wants to win? What was the hardest aspect of creating the book, and were there some moments when the project seemed to be heading for the rocks? Answers to these questions are supplied by the author himself – racing publicist, presenter, member of the Kelso Stables syndicate, and above all one of the good guys, with a broad mind and an open heart, Martin Cáp…


Which material that he has used in the book does the author rate most highly? Which historical period is he most attracted to? Is he now thinking about a reprint? These are some of the points of discussion in Part 2 of Jana Šejnohová’s interview with Martin Cáp, whose monumental history of the Czech Derby, under the title Dostihy o Modrou Stuhu (Races for the Blue Riband), appeared in January 2024.


In the period of almost twenty-five years that you were working on the book, you managed to gather together a considerable number of unique materials. Which of them do you rate most highly?

It’s terribly difficult to say, because several things are combined in all that number of pages. There are contemporary texts about the Derby, which are of course my own view of the events. But from the beginning I knew that I’d have to bring it to life somehow. When we read literary texts, we all look out for the dialogues. For direct speech, because it brings things to life. But in the kind non-fiction that I was writing, that is difficult. So I used quotations from people who were there, and quotations from the contemporary press, because I liked them and also because I’d observed the use of quotations by foreign writers that I admired.

Which period of history is your favourite in this sense?

Mainly the First Republic (the period between 1920 and the second world war). It is very attractive in this way. I should say that many of the examples from the contemporary press don’t state anything remarkable, but I just like the atmosphere around them. For example, in 1937 there was the first female horseracing journalist, a lady who wrote under the pseudonym Ardita. In real life, she was the wife of army officer Jaroslav Kadainka. She wrote under this pseudonym for fashion magazines and for periodicals like Jezdec a chovatel (Rider and Breeder magazine) and Dostihový a jezdecký sport (Horseracing and Equine Sport). She put together a notable article on the Derby, but not about the race itself. Far from it. She reported on the ladies in their hats and the generals in their uniforms, promenading at the racecourse. And how terribly lovely and beautiful it all was.

In your book, there are also quotations from articles by your colleagues in the press corps …

In more recent times, I found that it would also be a good thing to show my appreciation for the work of my press colleagues. For horseracing journalists from the past, and also for my contemporaries. Why? Because each of them has done some work, and mainly, because details are worth mentioning. The details can be found today thanks to my press colleagues – Petr Guth, Miloslav Vlček, Petr Malík, Petr Feldstein, Aleš Pohořal, and a number of others. That’s why I felt it was appropriate to thank them symbolically with quotations from their texts. So that they could express the atmosphere of the times that they had experienced. It fulfilled my aim, which was that the names should all be found in the book – from Přemysl Neumann, Radovan Šimáček and Zdeňeka Nebeský to my above-named colleagues.

When someone writes a book over a period of many years, and the years mount up, unavoidably there will be rewritings, errors, and extensive corrections. How did you deal with that?

There are texts, and I speak without exaggeration, that have been rewritten 20 times. I wrote my first Derby manuscript twenty years ago, but my journalistic signature has developed, and I’ve been able to find more information, and I’ve supplemented this and that and I’ve rewritten and corrected, so that half of the book has been rewritten many times, while the rest was thrown together only in the last ten years. It also grew beneath my hands, because in 1998, when I began, it wasn’t the 103rd running of the Czech Derby – it was only the 78th riunning, and every year that the book remained uncompleted entailed more work.

If you have plenty of interesting material, on the one hand you can perform wizardry with it, but you also have to learn to delete. I bet that was a very difficult thing …

It was dreadfully difficult. It was more difficult than I could have imagined it would be. When you’ve gathered a lot, and you have to distill it into some kind of striking, undistorted essence, and then do justice to so much material in just two pages, the task is almost impossible.

I would collect a thick file on a certain Derby or on a rider, and then I’d have to process the file, shorten it, judge what was most important and what, on the other hand, would drop on to the floor, and then write. And then put my stamp on to the final text. I think I’ve never worked on anything so carefully and so painstakingly as this book. In addition to the text, there was also of course the separate matter of photos and illustrations. A huge number didn‘t make their way into the book, and there were some runnings of the race where I was brought to despair because some splendid photos that I wanted to include at any price simply couldn’t be fitted in.

Was there ever a time when you said to yourself that you’d give up the attempt, and that the book would never see the light of day?

In these twenty-five years there were at least twenty when I had no doubt that I’d publish it one day. The along came Covid, when the price of paper and printing skyrocketed, and that was a time when I had plenty of doubts. Plus the fact that it was only ever a project for my free time, and I also needed to go to work. At the time when our second child was born there were more and more moments when I banged my head on the wall and said to myself: “It’s not possible, I simply can’t finish it off!”

After two months, your book has had plenty of positive reviews, and the stocks in the warehouse are gradually running down. If things continue that way, are you already thinking about a  reprint?

We will see. It is of course a matter for the publisher, and at this point I must express my great gratitude to Martin Bláha and his company Maentiva Management a. s., which has taken the publication under its aegis. Basically, it should be said that reprints are made when the first print has been sold out, and we are not there yet. In two and a half months we’ve sold a half of the first print run, so we still have some, and when our racing season begins there are sure to be some copies left. Nevertheless, I would of course be very happy if there’s a reprint. Our graphics editor and artist Barbora Solperová, who is very much in demand, and is a premier league player in her profession, tells me that in publishing a reprint is considered as a mark of success. Whether we’ll get there remains up in the air. But I can already say that I’m happy about each book that is sold and I appreciate everyone who has bought one. I also appreciate the good reviews – and for the rest we’ll wait and see. However, let me advise anyone who is making up her or his mind - the book not available in bookshops, but can be obtained either online through e-shop, or in the racing season at Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse.


(translated by Robin)