Some comments about VP 2020
Before the race
Since March, all events have been difficult to organize, including the VP. Nevertheless, everybody was determined that the race should go ahead. The VP is a great national event, and cancellation would have been hard to accept, for the nation as a whole, for the town of Pardubice and for the Pardubice District, and of course, for the horseracing community. Unfortunately, the prizemoney for the VP was reduced, from CZK 5 million to CZK 3 million, and the meeting was reduced from 2 days to 1 day, and the event took place behind closed doors. Nevertheless, the virus did not get its own way, and the 130th running of the Velka Pardubicka will go into the records as a good effort.
Czech Television’s free-to-view coverage of the VP has made a big contribution to the fame of the race inside the country, and VP day 2020 was covered in seven hours and twenty minutes of continuous coverage, during which all 10 races were shown.
18 horses were declared to run in the VP, 17 of which are trained in the Czech Republic and one (Vandual) in Slovakia. All passed the veterinary inspection quite early in the morning. This inspection is unpopular with owners and trainers. Josef Váňa complains that his and other trainers’ horses must either start out at 4 in the morning or spend the night at the racecourse, and then wait around to run in the race at 4.40 p.m. Josef Váňa is usually right, and think he is right again about the inspection. It is the trainer’s responsibility to prepare the horses properly for a race.
There were 4 past winners of the VP in the race: Theophilos (2019), Tzigane du Berlais (2018), No Time To Lose (2017) and Ribelino (2015).
There were only three riders in the race who are not based in the Czech Republic. All three are based in France: Sertash Ferhanov (Casper), a Bulgarian jockey who rode here for several years, Romain Julliot (Vandual) and Hakim Tabet (Mahony). Veteran Swedish jockey Niklas Lovén was on Catch Life, but he rides against our jockeys so often, all over central Europe, that we would like to claim him as one of ours.
For the first time in 6 years, there was a female rider in the race. Veronika Škvařilová-Řezáčová rode All Scater, trained by her mother.
The VP was the last of 10 races on the day. Just one jockey, Martin Liška, was too badly injured in an earlier race to ride in the Velka. Martin broke an ankle, but was back from the hospital in time to watch the race and, no doubt, help out with the horses.
The favourite was Theophilos, winner of the VP in 2019. A number of horses appeared to have a good chance in the race.
The official going was 3.6 (good). The ploughed fields were in good condition.
The horses did not get away correctly until the third time of asking (after the race, 10 riders were fined CZK 500 for indiscipline at the start). The early leaders were Player, Hegnus, Vandual, Ribelino and Stretton. Nothing happened in the first 500 metres. The 4th (Taxis), the 5th (Irish Bank) and the 6th ((Popkovice Turn) are the most problematic obstacles, and the main thing is just to overcome them successfully. Two horses fell at the Taxis, both of them trained by Josef Váňa. Sottovento took a crashing fall, and joined the long list of horses killed by the ditch that follows the hedge. No Time To Lose was the other faller. All Scater and Veronika Škvařilová-Řezáčová got over the Taxis, but the rider came off at the Irish Bank, when they had already dropped into last place. Then Niklas Lovén was unseated from Catch Life at the Popkovice Turn.
The middle of the race
When the horses come from the ploughed fields behind the copse, and get over the double fence, there is a quiet spell in which the jockeys have time to look around and polish their goggles. The only drama in this stage of the race was when Catch Life was running loose, and for a while was threatening to cause havoc. Jan Faltejsek kept 2018 winner Tzigane du Berlais right at the back of the field, which however formed a compact group. Lodgian Whistle took the lead for a while. Player, Vandual, Stretton, Ribelino and Talent were prominent at the head of the field. All the remaining horses got safely over the two water jumps and passed round behind the copse again.
The last part of the race
At the Hangar fence, Mahony was pulled up and Ribelino was clearly beaten. After the Hangar fence, the horses head right across the field, more or less in a straight line, and the contenders take up a position towards the front of the field. This was where, for example, Theophilos and Tzigane du Berlais should have started to look dangerous. However, they both failed to make progress. Over the 4th from home (Havel’s jump), and on to the grass track, the leaders were still Player and Vandual, and Hegnus had them both well in his sights. Vandual interfered with Hegnus on the last bend. As they approached the last fence, Talent was taken to join them, and he looked dangerous over the last fence. For a while, Hegnus, Player, Vandual and Talent were in a battle, but in the end Hegnus won out fairly comfortably by a length and three quarters, Player finished a head in front of Vandual, and Talent was half a length further back. Tzigane du Berlais was 13 lengths behind in 5th place, which was as close to the leaders as he ever got. Jan Faltejsek tried hard to move him forward, but the horse never got on terms with the leaders. 6th placed Casper and 7th placed Lodgian Whistle collected the last parts of the prizemoney. Stretton finished in 8th place. After that they trailed in very well beaten, in the order Theophilos, Bugsie Malone, Dulcar de Sivola, Mazhilis, Ribelino.
After the race
Three horses trained by Josef Váňa senior and ridden by Jan Kratochvíl - Dusigros, Chelmsford and Buonarroti – had all won races earlier in the day, but fortunes change rapidly in steeplechasing. In the Velka, Sottovento did not survive the Taxis, and No Time to Lose also fell at the Taxis. His two remaining horses, Theophilos and Mazhilis, were beaten a long way from home. Not a good end to a long day for the legend.
The winning jockey, Lukáš Matuský, is Slovak, and works in the Czech Republic. He has in the past earned a name as one of the more unlucky riders in the Velka, repeatedly missing rides in the race through a last-minute injury. He dedicated his win to his mother, who recently passed away.
The winning trainer, Radek Holčák, was the trainer of Maskul when the horse first won theVelka, in 2002. When Maskul won the race for the second time, his trainer was František Holčák, Radek’s father. The Holčáks train in Velké Karlovice, which is near the Slovak border.
Hegnus’s owner, František Ševců, also bred Hegnus. All of the first four to finish were Czech- or Slovak-bred – that must be some kind of record, certainly in the period since 1990.