Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse is preparing a number of changes and some new investment

A press conference with representatives of Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse was held at the Wine Food Market in Prague 5 in the morning of November 20th, 2018. The discussion ranged from an evaluation of the 2018 horseracing season, a presentation for the press about prospects for the 2019 season, to investments in the racecourse and the changes in the racecourse area that the changes will lead to. After the press conference was over, we asked Martin Pecka, Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse manager, for further information about some of the innovations

18 days of horseracing and a total of 141 races were held at Velk
á Chuchle in 2018, with total prizemoney of CZK 17 280 000 crowns [EUR 670 000]. 14 days of racing are planned for 2019. "The racedays include two new dates," racing manager Jiří Zlamaný points out. "There will be an evening meeting in July, and then a season-ending meeting in November, which the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic asked us to put on. We set the bar too high last year, and we want to bring it down a bit."

An innovation in 2019 will be that race meetings will more often be held on days other than a Sunday, and there will be some combined meetings. There will be five racedays on Saturdays, including Czech Derby day, and one raceday will be on Easter Monday. And in July, there will be a meeting on a Friday evening. Three racedays will be combined with trotting. First, there will be a block of trotting races. This will be followed by a 1½ hour break, followed by seven flat races.

There will be a reduction in the prizemoney for the Czech Derby, which will be half a million crowns less than in 2018 – the prizemoney in 2019 will be CZK 2 000 000 [EUR 77 000]. "The prizemoney for the Czech Derby has towered over the prizemoney for the other races, and even after this reduction the Czech Derby will remain the richest Derby in the Central European region. We are going to raise the prizemoney for other top category races. The Jaroslav Mašek Memorial Stakes, the Nora Jeane Stakes and the Harry Petrlík Memorial Stakes will be Category I races in 2019, and will be run for prizemoney of CZK 150 000, as will the other Category I races."  The Category I races on Czech Derby day will have prizemoney of CZK 200 000.  The prizes for the classic races and for other top races will also go up.

The attendances on racedays in 2018, with the exception of European Jockeys’ Cup day and Derby day, were between 1 600 and 2 700 paying spectators. "We’d like to raise the average attendance next year to 3 000 paying spectators. We’d like Velká Chuchle to be a meeting place for people of all ages," says racecourse manager Martin Pecka.

In 2018, CZK 12 000 000 was invested in the racecourse area by the owner. "We had the restaurant and the saloons on the first floor of the grandstand refurbished, the training arena and the circular riding school were reconstructed, as was the car park for owners and riders. Revitalization work is also being carried out on the racetrack, as the floods [in 2002 and 2013] have affected the quality of the turf. The state and the quality of the racetrack is one of the most important considerations,Martin Pecka had said in the press conference.

In 2019, the Vítek family plans to more than double its investment, which will reach a total of 30 million crowns. One of these investments will be in a new hall, which will soon be erected between the upper stables, where the carousel used by trainers for exercising their horses currently stands. "This land belongs to Turf Praha, not to the state, so we can use it for putting up structures. The hall will be used from April until about mid November for stabling the participants in races and other events. Some of the stables, for example the corrugated iron ones, are simply no longer suitable for stabling the horses that come to the racecourse, and we want to provide decent stabling for all. In winter, the hall will be used as a riding school."  

"Of course, the racehorse trainers are not going to lose the circular riding school," 
Martin Pecka said in answer to our question. "We’re only going to move it a bit. The present carousels have an unsuitable surface that gets muddy, and puddles of water form there. The new circular riding school will have a better surface. We’d like the hall to be functioning before the beginning of the 2019 season, so that the horses running on the first racedays can be stabled there."

The second big investment for 2019 will be in a new arena with a preparation area, a movable stand and a tower constructed from containers. Next year, there will be four showjumping events inside the racecourse area. "One of them will be the Eliot Prize. This event is named after the horse on which František Ventura won the only Czech Olympic gold medal in showjumping, in 1928."

We are also interested in whether some major reconstruction of the grandstand is under preparation. "The statics of the grandstand is very sound, but the technical networks are a negative factor,"  Martin Pecka told us. "A general reconstruction effort will be needed when investment money is available. We can’t do it all right now, and we’ll be trying to modernize bit-by-bit. "

Finally, we asked the racecourse manager to express a view on rumours that racehorse trainers no longer feel welcome at Prague Velk
á Chuchle racecourse. When trainer Igor Endaltsev moved to France, he mentioned that he was leaving Velká Chuchle because he had not been allowed to have any more boxes. [Igor Endaltsev, trainer of Blessed Kiss, winner of the 2018 Czech Derby, moved on from Velká Chuchle after spending only a couple of years there].

 "I’ve also recently heard it said that we don’t want to have racehorses at the racecourse. It certainly isn’t true, and it also isn’t true that we’ve driven someone away from the racecourse. Igor Endaltsev has left, and also, for personal reasons, trainers Tomáš Šatra [who has now retired] and Mr. Martin. No one else has left. In fact, trainer Martina Havelková applied for more boxes. Mr Endaltsev originally wanted to leave Velká Chuchle in January to go to France, but then he came back. In the autumn, he stabled some new horses and asked us for more boxes, but unfortunately none of those near to his yard were free, so we weren’t able to provide what he wanted. At that time, only stable no. 27 was vacant. I think he left Velká Chuchle because he obtained a French licence.

I hope the public will see that the Vítek family is thinking seriously about the horses at Velká Chuchle racecourse, and that this will show when comparisons are made between the racecourse next year and the coure as it had been two years previously."

[This interview by Michaela Zemanová first appeared on the Fitmin/Turf webpages on 20 November 2018. h Translated by Robin]