Václav Volf’s Photo blog: Freudenau returns to life after many years. Are better times on the way?
Nine long years have passed since Václav Volf, my long-term collaborator on Martin’s Derby Diary, has had an opportunity to make close-ups of racing at Freudenau. Racing at Freudenau - a collocation of words that many of us had sadly believed to be confined to history - unexpectedly returned to life last Saturday [September 17th, 2017]. Thoroughbreds again appeared before the Vienna Secession Style grandstands and the famous Emperor’s Box, where, in recent years, only golfers and participants in a wide range of social events had been spotted. Despite the optimistic declarations of the organizers, this does not necessarily mean that the tradition of racing in Vienna is being renewed. The Austrian St Leger, with prize money of EUR 30 000 was for the time being just a reminder of what Freudenau once was, and what it could be in the future.
Racing cannot be revived without renewing regular race meetings, and Austria is far away from doing that. Ebreichsdorf is becoming more and more a home for trotting, where on occasions there may be a handful of flat races. Under its present management, Freudenau has been changed into an intensively-used golf course and a lucrative location for a wide range of concerts, celebrations and film shoots. Races were last run here in 2008, but even then only from time to time. The era of regular meetings at Freudenau came to an end when the racecourse at Ebreichsdorf was opened. However, thoroughbreds never disappeared entirely from Prater. All this time, the track has served as a training centre. Currently, Gérard Martin and Tamara Richter train here. The meeting on Saturday was some kind of coming together of the two sides of present-day Freudenau. The races were held within the framework of the two-day Vienna Ascot Festival, organized by the Association of Viennese Gastronomists, and a number of racegoers made a point of keeping to a dress code.
The presence of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy made itself felt all day, even if the yellow and black flag did not flutter over the pavilion with Emperor’s Box.
In their place, everyone who has been missing racing in Vienna, and whose face used to be seen regularly in the grandstands, and elsewhere, had come to Freudenau on Saturday.
Many Austrian horseracing people are working successfully abroad. For example, Mario Hofer (left), who has been training at Krefeld, in Germany, for many years.
Two winning jockeys in the Czech Derby, who controlled the Austrian jockeys’ championship in the 1980s and 1990s: William Lord, from England, (left) and Jean-Pierre Lopez, from France, back again at the scene of some of their great victories.
The Austrian St. Leger was won by odds-on favourite Iraklion, ridden by Bauyrzhan Murzabayev. However, this winner of a listed race in Germany, with several places in group races, did not have it at all easy against Icar. At the furlong marker, it seemed that Petr Foret in the colours of DS Pegas would go ahead, but in the end Iraklion kept his nose in front, after a major battle. Four lengths behind them, 10-y-o domestic veteran I Do, with a German rating of 65 kg, took third place in an ill-matched contest with German–trained Swordshire, which had a 21.5 kg higher rating.
Iraklion had travelled 800 kilometres from Hannover, and brought great joy to Christian Sprengel, one of the oldest trainers in Germany. Sprengel himself led his horse out.
Bauyrzhan Murzabayev also won the second major race of the day, the Graf Nikolaus Esterházy Memorial, over 1200 metres, on the 2-y-o filly Be A Wave, trained by Gerald Geisler.
Active participants reacted with words of praise to the renewed racing première in Vienna, on a well-prepared track. German newspaper Sport-Welt quoted the organizers as saying that it was a trial event, to see whether it would be worthwhile to try to organize more race days next year. Let us allow ourselves to hope and to be surprised – more races on the broad Viennese oval track, and on the long straight track, would be welcomed, and not only by Austrian owners and trainers.