November 2012 newsletter

I normally include something in these newsletters about the weather conditions in the past month. It is interesting how easy it is to give a post-hoc weather report, while predicting the weather in advance remains a very imprecise art. We might say the same thing about picking the winners of horse races.  The weather forecasts for the Velka Pardubicka weekend were again well wide of the mark, and again excessively pessimistic. This has been the case in several recent years, when Velka Pardubicka day has turned out much better than had been predicted. This year on October 13th, it was pleasantly sunny and warm for those of us out in the autumn sun. In the north-facing grandstands it may have been a bit chilly. Basically, September and October provided sensibly moderate and mild weather, in contrast to the rest of the horseracing season, which featured far too much hot, dry weather. There was what may appear in the statistics to have been a fair amount of precipitation in the course of the summer, but it was mainly in the form of infrequent but heavy storms, including hailstorms. The weather has generally not been good for racehorses, and it has been a very poor season for most of the crops that farmers grow in the Czech Republic. Right at the end of the month, we had quite heavy snow for the last weekend of our season. On Saturday, October 27th at Pardubice, racing went ahead on ground that started out as good-to-soft but ended up as deep in many places, especially behind the copse, after the steady rain turned into snow quite early in the afternoon. The final meeting of the season at Prague Velka Chuchle had to be called off, and it has now been announced, rather surprisingly, that it will not be rearranged. The horses of the month were, over fences, Orphee des Blins, the stunning winner of the Velka Pardubicka. More or less out of the blue, she produced the best performance by a Czech crosscountry chaser that can be remembered. Even Registana or Peruan could not have stayed with her on the day.  On the flat, Donn Halling produced a great performance to win the Italian St Leger at Milano, Graded 3, narrowly, after a fine ride by Vaclav Janacek.  Lightly-raced Irish-bred 4-y-o Donn Halling, by Halling(USA) out of Papering(IRE) (Shaadi(USA)), has won 6 of his 8 races. He is owned by DS Maentiva and trained by Vaclav Luka, jnr. Trainer of the month has been Greg Wroblewski, trainer of Orphee des Blins. Greg has been travelling the world since escaping from Poland as a young man and riding and training wherever opportunity has arisen. The UK and Ireland have, strangely, not appeared at all in his biodata, but he has been in most places where steeplechasing, or even flat racing, is held and where a horseman can make a living. His heart is in steeplechasing, and winning the Velka Pardubicka has been an ambition fulfilled at the first time of trying.  Greg has been sending his horses to run in the Czech Republic, from Italy and from Poland, for years. He took up an invitation to be the private trainer for Rabbit Trhovy Stepanov in 2009. For various reasons, Rabbit has changed trainers very frequently over the years. One way or another, it was not expected that Greg would remain for many months training flat horses at Pičín u Jankova, near Benešov, about 60 km south-east of Prague. Sure enough, what he really had his eye on was a jumping stable prepared to invest good money on good horses and on a good trainer. Roman Vitek had been private trainer to DS Pegas (Jiri Travnicek) for several years with some success on the flat but very little over fences, which is not where Roman’s heart lies. Exactly how it came about that Roman was out and Greg was suddenly in is not known to me, but by the winter of 2009 - 2010, Greg was in charge of the fine DS Pegas racing stables at Zhoř, near Jihlava. Greg tells me that his first act at Zhoř, which is notorious for its long cold winters in the Czech-Moravian highlands, was to turn off the central heating (for the horses, that is!) The DS Pegas stable has done very well in the past three seasons, on the flat and especially over jumps. Apart from Orphee des Blins, there are other well-established top jumpers, Sokol, Kamelie and Gejzir. Two 5-y-os, Skarabeus and Eldorado, which both won at Pardubice on the last Saturday of the season, are very promising for the future. In addition, there are some horses with good flat form that will run over fences in due course.  Greg knows the Italian scene very well, having trained there for some time. He frequently takes horses to run there, and also to Bratislava. Kamelie won a race in France this year. The owner is perhaps less enthusiastic than the trainer to take horses racing abroad. DS Pegas horses are ridden on the flat by Petr Foret, who might have won this year’s flat jockeys’ championship, if the final day of flat racing had been rearranged. He was beaten into 2nd place only by the narrowest margin. Until recently, Dusan Andres rode most of the stable’s horses over fences. However, he left Zhoř a couple of months ago because he wanted to ride Valldemoso in the Velka Pardubicka and Greg insisted he would have to ride the outsider, Orphee des Blins! French jockey Thomas Boyer is currently based at Zhoř, and rode both the stable’s winners at Pardubice on October 27th. Our top trainers will be thinking about jockeys for the 2013 Czech season. I understand that Josef Bartos will be based in Italy next year, but that Josef Vana jnr will be back at his father’s stable. This stable needs a good second jockey. Who will that be? Will the racing calendar in Italy be arranged in a way that takes meetings at Pardubice into account and allows Bartos to ride there on a regular basis? Cestmir Olehla, nowadays a public trainer, did not have a regular stable jockey this year, and he used Jaroslav Myska whenever possible. However, it is understood that the stable run by Stepanka Sedlackova at Valy, near Pardubice, is expanding, and Stepanka will again have first claim on her partner, Jaroslav Myska’s, services as a jockey. It is known that Olehla is impressed by Liam Treadwell. I think trainer Hana Kabelkova, when she gets over the disappointment Trezor’s 8th place finish, just outside the prize money, will also want to offer Liam the ride on Trezor again in 2013. Another British jockey that made a very good impression on Czech trainers was James Reveley, who rode Maljimar into 4th place in the Velka Pardubicka, and has twice ridden the winner of the Gran Premio di Merano.  It is not clear who will ride for the Holcaks next year. I understand it is unlikely to be Marek Stromsky again, though rumours that Marek intends to retire have been denied. Matej Rigo has ridden 15 winners this year, two of them over hurdles, many of them for the Holcaks. Some younger jockeys have had a decent season this year. Pavel Tuma has ridden 11 winners, four of them in Slovakia, enough to ensure him the Slovak jump jockeys, championship. Ondrej Velek, Jakub Kocman and Vladimir Verner seem to be coming along. Michal Kubik picked up 53 rides and his first three wins over jumps, plus a lot of experience, at the Josef Vana stable this year. Some less good news of riders. Ludvik Temel, who received head injuries at Most a year ago, is still in a coma. One of our best flat jockeys, Milan Zatloukal, had a very ugly accident at Slusovice on October 14th, and received major injuries. I understand that things are not as bad as had been feared at first, but he has several broken bones and some head injuries. Zdenek Bodlak, who made a fairly successful return to race riding in 2011 after a 15-year break, failed a drugs test on October 13th, and has been suspended. The length of his suspension has not been announced. I do not want to finish this newsletter on a low note, so let us celebrate the return to success of Jan Faltejsek, one of the favourites of this website, which aims to keep international steeplechase fans informed about jumps racing in central Europe. For the last half dozen years, Jan has commuted between the north of England, the Czech Republic and Italy. He is very highly rated here and in Italy, but has not quite made it yet in UK steeplechasing, a small world where it seems to be important to have a British or Irish passport. Jan finished a close 2nd on the outsider Imprezer in the Gran Premio at Merano, central Europe’s best-endowed steeplechase, at the end of September. He then had two winners on outsiders on Velka Pardubicka day, including the most extraordinary ride on Orphee des Blins in the Velka itself. When she ran away from the field, Jan said that on more than one occasion he was afraid he had gone off course (as he did on Klip, in 2008) because he could not hear any horses in pursuit. I hear that Jan is spending this winter working in France.