The petition to save the Napjedla stud gathers 49 715 signatures

Czech horseracing has enjoyed a great deal of publicity in the last two months in relation to the Petition to Save the Napajedla Stud. The petition aimed to preserve the Napajedla stud farm, which has been the biggest and best-known Thoroughbred breeding institution in the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia) throughout its almost 140-year history; and also to block the present owner’s efforts to get building permission and sell the pastures where mares and foals have frolicked happily for all those years. The company that owns the Napajedla stud has been trying to get permission to build housing on eight hectares of land that are an integral part of the operation of the stud farm. In February 2023, the stud stopped its operations, and the stallions and brood mares were moved out.

For most of the 49 715 signatories, no doubt, the main reason for signing the petition to save the Napajedla stud was to preserve a site with a unique history, and to prevent its owner selling fields for a housing development. For the horseracing community, there were two other important issues that the petition drew attention to: firstly, pressure for financial and other support from the Ministry of Agriculture for the restoration of Thoroughbred breeding at Napajedla and, secondly, pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture to provide much needed support for the future of Thoroughbred breeding in the Czech Republic.


The Petition was drawn up by a petition committee headed by Aleš Martínek, a lawyer based in Brno who owns a racehorse or racehorses trained by Hana Kabelková. The petition arose from a conversation between owner and trainer, and later went viral after public interest was whipped up by Czech horseracing writers, publicists and bloggers. Early in March, a deadline for signatures was set, and on March 12th the petition was presented to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Petition Commission of the Czech parliament.

The parliamentary Petition Commission carried out its duty under the constitution to receive and consider the petition signed by 49 715 citizens on saving and preserving the Napajedla stud and sustaining Czech horsebreeding. The Commission promptly acknowledged the importance of the arguments in the petition, and the need to take active steps to protect the breeding of Thoroughbreds. The Petition Commission recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture should enter into discussions with the owner of the stud about its future. The Ministry of Agriculture was instructed to take all possible steps to negotiate the conditions for the future running of the Napajedla stud, with the potential participation of the Czech state at least as a guarantor of Czech Thoroughbred breeding. All of these points were accepted unanimously by the all-party Petition Commission.

The next point was accepted with no votes against, but several members of the Commission abstained: this point in the Petition wanted the Ministry of Agriculture to take all steps to support Thoroughbred breeding at the Napajedla stud and throughout the Czech Republic, and to set aside funding in support of Thoroughbred breeding in view of the critical situation in Czech Thoroughbred breeding.  

In addition, the Petition Commission recommended that the Ministry of Culture should carefully consider all arguments for preserving the national cultural heritage represented by the Napajedla stud, and should provide appropriate protection.

The petition, ceremoniously delivered to the parliament building by a delegation of leading representatives of Czech horseracing, was received with considerable respect and warmth. The Petition Commission, and also the minister of Agriculture, were clearly interested in the topic, and they were at pains to show sympathy with the racing community, at least in principle. This was only stage one, but stage one went well.


The Napajedla stud was set up in 1886, when Aristide Baltazzi married into the Austrian noble family that owned land at Napjedla, which is about 10 km west of Zlín in the south-eastern part of the Czech Republic. There were four Baltazzi brothers, born in Constantinople. They were the sons of a rich Greek banker. All four brothers were expert horsemen and riders, and were major figures in the active horseracing scene in the late 19th century in Vienna, though their lack of noble blood made them social outsiders. Hector Baltazzi rode three winners of the Velka Pardubicka. Aristide and Alexander Baltazzi were joint owners of Hungarian-bred Kisber, winner of the Epsom Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris in 1876. Shortly before the English Derby, Aristide and Alexander were in danger of having Kisber confiscated and given to a moneylender that they owed money to. Fortunately, though, they were able to find another moneylender, who lent them enough money not only to pay off their debt but also to have a bet on Kisber that won them GBP 100 000. That was still a lot of money in the 1870s. Later, Kisber was the first stallion to stand at Napajedla.

In the late 19th century, racing in Austro-Hungary was on a high level, and the thoroughbred sales at Napjedla were a huge social event. Apart from running the stud, Aristide Baltazzi became a figure in Viennese politics. He died in 1914. The Napajedla stud went into decline during the first world war, which was followed by the depression, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic (1920). In 1930, the stud farm was offered for auction and was taken over by the Baťa footwear company, which was founded in Zlín in 1894 and quite soon became a huge employer in Zlín and subsequently in many other parts of the world.

By 1937, the Napajedla stud was bankrupt, and was taken over by the state. After the second world war, horseracing in Czechoslovakia continued under socialism, with Czechoslovak-bred horses but with little investment in bloodstock. Under socialism, breeders were employees of state farms or other state enterprises, or in some cases they were employees of the military. When the Changes came in 1989, Czech breeders had little or no capital to spend on imported stallions and mares, or on modernizing their facilities. Few, if any, had experience of the type of management needed for a Thoroughbred breeder in the 1990s. They were devoted to their horses, but they needed to work in an unknown, harsh business environment. Ambitious Czech racehorse owners soon began to buy horses in the West, and Czech breeders have struggled to compete with French and Irish breeders ever since.

In the early 1990s, a Shareholders’ Association was set up that took over the part of the Tlumačov Breeding Enterprise under which the Napajedla Stud formed an autonomous unit. The Shareholders’ Association was then offered in Coupon Privatization. This was one of the series of restitution and privatization measures introduced in the 1990s to dismantle socialist ownership rapidly and set up a private sector and a stock exchange. All adult Czechs were able to buy coupons and convert them into shares in companies that were being privatized. Coupon Privatization typically produced a large number of small shareholders, most of whom were soon bought out, and a majority package was built up. This is what happened with the Napajedla stud. The package of shares changed hands several times. In 2014, the last majority shareholder, SYGNUM s.r.o., held over 90% of the shares before it privatized the Stud. In 2023, SYGNUM announced the closure of the stud.

SYGNUM s.r.o. is a small company, owned by a family from the Napadla area that seems to have invested in the stud in the 1990s as a matter of local pride. SYGNUM certainly did not set out to ruin the business and then try to make a profit by breaking it up and closing the breeding operation down. Nevertheless, the collapse of horsebreeding, the deterioration of the buildings and facilities, the attempts to get building permission, and the failure to inform and consult with interested parties have led to bitterness. SYGNUM has clearly lost a lot of money over the years, and cannot see a way to make the breeding business viable. From the company's point of view, the enterprise was quite simply chronically loss-making, made worse by sharply rising costs of energy, fuel and fodder. SYGNUM was no longer able to sustain the losses.


It is good that the set of issues posed by the collapse of racehorse breeding at the Napajedla stud (and elsewhere) has been brought to the attention of the Czech government and the Ministry of Agriculture. In the past, Czech politicians have not shown much interest in providing more than minimal financial or other support for Thoroughbred breeding and for horseracing in general. In France and Ireland - which would be the main rivals inside the European Union for any potentially revitalized Czech breeding industry - there are powerful horseracing lobbies and there is enormous direct and indirect financial support for all branches of the horseracing business. The Czech politicians have now seemed to respond positively to the Petition, and Czech horseracing may now have an opportunity to set up a lobby and win some political support. There is reason to hope that the Napajedla Stud petition has raised the profile of Czech horseracing sport significantly. There is now an opportunity to link horseracing in the minds of politicians and the general public with a sport that provides much employment and much entertainment, and with the struggle to preserve the beautiful, historical but threatened estate at Napajedla. All too often in the past, influential Czechs have linked our sport with the problems of the gambling industry, with fatalities at the Taxis, with little men brandishing horsewhips, and assume that racing is associated with the kinds of villains and dirty tricks that Dick Francis wrote about.


The Ministry of Agriculture may now take more interest in horseracing. However, it is hard to see where the major funding might come from that would be required to restore and provide support for breeding at Napajedla. The Petition Commission probably did not take into account the huge amounts that the Czech Thoroughbred industry would need in order to rival the French and the Irish. The Napajedla stud is not viable and is no longer operating, and any money that the Ministry of Agriculture can find in support of Thoroughbred breeding might be better invested in other, more promising breeding establishments, set up in the modern era, and in other aspects of the horseracing industry. The Ministry of Culture and the local authorities should urgently seek ways to repurpose and revitalize some of the buildings at Napajedla. Of course, the 8 hectares of pasture could continue to be part of the countryside. Nevertheless, it is hard to disagree with SYGNUM s.r.o., owners of the Napajedla Stud, who wrote in 2023 “In the event that the area is declared a cultural monument, the opportunities for its further use will be very limited.”

Most of the 49 715 signatories of the Petition are probably hoping, fairly confidently, that the Napajedla stud will be re-opened and fully funded, or that the whole stud farm or major parts of it will be declared a cultural monument. However, neither of these solutions seems able to provide a long-term future either for the breeders or for the buildings at Napajedla. Napajedla has been closed for a year. It does not seem to have a future function as a monument or as a Thoroughbred breeding establishment. The Petition has opened some opportunities for Czech horseracing to speak with Czech politicians about funding for the sport, which deserves and needs some support from the state. However, it is necessary to be realistic about the amount of funding that is likely to be offered, and about the projects it should be used for.