June 2018 newsletter

This must have been by some margin the hottest of the 26 months of May that I have spent in the Czech Republic. In addition, it has been extremely dry where I have been. Some severe local storms have been shown on television, but none of them fell onto the northwestern parts of Prague where I spend most of my time. Heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow’s race meeting at Most – but by then it will be June 1st. In 2016 and 2017, there were sharp late frosts in mid May, and the local fruit crops suffered. Nothing like that this year, and there are prospects of fine crops this year of whatever thrives on hot, dry weather in May. 

In June, attention turns to the Derby. As of the end of May, it is only possible to guess which horses will even obtain a high enough rating to get a place in the field of 16 runners for the Derby, which will be run at Prague Velká Chuchle on Sunday, June 24th, for prizemoney of CzK 2 500 000. The main Derby trial is the 66th running of the June Grand Prix, which will be run at Prague Velká Chuchle on Sunday, June 3rd. It really does not make much sense to discuss the Derby prospects now, when the first serious data will not appear until 48 hours from now. I am told that my attitude to the Derby is all wrong: what makes the Derby so glorious is the very fact that the runners are still unknown quantities.

By the way, the weekend of June 23rd/June 24th could be a good time for racing fans to arrange a trip to the Czech Republic. The main event of the meeting on the Saturday at Pardubice will be the June qualification race for the Velka Pardubicka, and the meeting on the Sunday features the Czech Derby, which is run in the suburbs of Prague.

Purists are shocked, and I am rather pleased, that the richest flat race in the Czech calendar this year will not be the Czech Derby for maturing 3-y-os. It will be the fourth running of the Graded 2 Leram EJC Million, 1 400 metres, for 3-y-o and older, with prizemoney of CzK 2 600 000. The entries for the main races on EJC day were announced today http://www.dostihyjc.cz/prihlasky.php?id_den=7035. The EJC Million has attracted 38 entries, including 7 trained in Germany, 2 trained in Spain, one trained in the UK and another trained in Ireland. Not to forget, of course, 2016 EJC Million winner, Pretorian, trained in Austria by Ziva Prunk. If Gordon Lord Byron, trained by Tom Hogan, or Fighting Irish, trained by Harry Dunlop, makes the trip in September, we will be asking our historians just how long it is since a horse trained in the British Isles last ran on the flat at Velká Chuchle. This year’s fourth European Jockeys’ Cup day and Czech Derby day are now in competition to be the highlight of our flat tracing season. Of course, there is plenty of space for more and more big race days in our calendar.

Our local steeplechasing season got going in May. Theophilos won the First of May Chase at Lysá-nad-Labem, for the second year in succession - his jockey, Jan Kratochvíl, won this race for the fifth year in succession. Theophilos then finished 4th in the May qualification race at the end of the month. The grass track and the shorter distance at Lysá seem to suit him better than Pardubice. 7-y-o Talent did really well to win the qualification race. Another 7-y-o, Izynka, won the Opening Steeplechase at Pardubice on May 8th. She won the race for mares on VP day in 2017 very easily, and has now won 6 races over fences, all of them at Pardubice, out of a total of 10 races over fences.

I recently translated an interview with trainer Helena Vocásková, who is based at Nemčice just outside Pardubice. The Vocásek family remarkably won our flat trainers championship in 2016, and in 2017 they totally unexpectedly put an end to Josef Váňa’s 22-year reign as champion jumps trainer in the Czech Republic. Key members of the Vocásek team at Nemčice are the Bulgarian brothers Sertash and Beysim Ferhanov. Sertash has already established himself as one of our top riders over fences, with a special ability to cling on to horses long after balance is not enough and the only hope lies in very strong arms and shoulders. In the May qualification race at Pardubice he appeared to be flying over Universe of Gracies head, but a moment or two later he was back in the saddle and even still in the lead. Beysim has ridden 8 winners on the flat this season, all of them in May, and all of them for Helena Vocásková. In the meeting at Slušovice at the end of the month, Beysim rode three winners on the flat, and Sertash rode one over fences, all for trainer Vocásková.

Promising apprentice David Liška also rode 8 winners on the flat in May, and he seems unlikely to be seriously challenged for our flat jockeys championship.

Josef Váňa is too competitive a character to have been indifferent to the loss of his trainers‘ championship last year, or to finishing only 2nd, 3rd snd 4th in the May qualification race for the VP. However, much of his effort nowadays goes into winning and retaining the jumps trainers’ championship in Italy. He is now the dominant jumps trainer there, and Italian jumps racing would be at a loss without our jockeys. Well done, our boys, but the lack of major Italian trainers and riders (except in races for amateurs), together with small crowds, I am told,  suggests that the crisis in Italian jumps racing is as deep as ever.

Let me take this opportunity to mention a Czech trainer who had a big day at Merano recently. Zdeněk Seménka took two horses to Merano. 12-y-o Nils was quite a good gelding a few years ago, and his win in a small race was only a minor surprise. However, Quinze de la Rose had made the long journey primarily because there was a free space in the box. His win over siepi owed a lot to the fact that five of his 6 opponents took a wrong turn, and the other one was slower than Quinze. Both of these winners were ridden by Jan Faltejsek.

It is always good to meet visitors interested in Czech horseracing. Martin Pennington, who is a member of the sydicate that owns Alpha Wolf, trained by Václav Luka, which won well earlier this year, came for May Day at Lysá. Richard Askwith spent some time here, presenting his book on Emil Zátopek at a major book fair and doing some research for his next book, which will be on Countess Lata Brandisová, who rode Norma to victory in the 1937 Velka Pardubicka. Both Zátopek and the Countess lived in very difficult times, and both  achieved great fame that did not spare them, when Zátopeks views on the invasion in 1968, in particular, and the Countess’s aristocratic status, led them into some very tough times.

Richard Askwith, Today we die a little: rise and fall of Emil Zátopek, Random House, 2017.