February 2019 newsletter

In these newsletters, I sometimes write about the weather conditions in the previous month, and sometimes I do not. This implies that I tend to report on unusual weather, for example the extraordinarily warm and sunny mid-October day on which the 2018 Velka Pardubicka was run, and to ignore the normal spring, summer and autumn days that predominate every year. These are the kind of days that we may take for granted, until something reminds us how remarkable it is to be a human being living our lives on an ordinary day. Most writers, however, assume that their audience wants to read about abnormal and sensational occurrences, and fear that their readers, or their Facebook Followers, will promptly move on to a less boring Influencer as soon as the drama stops.

It is not in fact the mission of the Dostihový svět English language webpages to report only about the latest and most dramatic news and the most provocative talking points. I also attempt, especially in the monthly newsletters, to set Czech racing in its everyday context. I also seek out articles and interviews written by the best Czech writers about our horse racing, and I translate those that seem to me to illustrate some aspect of our day-to-day horseracing scene.  

Let me then now write a few words about the pretty normal weather in Prague in the unexceptional winter months of December 2018 and January 2019. Pretty normal, that is, by recent standards, but less cold than winters prior to climate change. It froze most nights, but not very severely. The daytime maximum rose above 0˚C most days. There was some snow and some rain here in Prague, but only a moderate amount. There were reasonable conditions for skiing in the highlands, I think. However, I do not share the enthusiasm of so many Czechs for getting into the car and driving to the mountains as soon as the roads are covered with snow and ice. All my statements about winter weather in the mountains are based strictly on what colleagues and the media tell me. Nevertheless, the colder, snowier weather in the highlands does affect the considerable proportion of our trainers whose yards are located up in the hills.

Both Pardubice racecourse and Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse are usually opened up for suburban crosscountry skiing in the winter months. This year, I hear, there were complaints that skiers damaged the grass on the racetrack at Pardubice by skiing on slushy snow. Well, the Town of Pardubice is a minority shareholder of the racecourse, so it is not unreasonable to allow local people some access to the racecourse area. And, I suppose, we have to expect a minority of the people to think it is fun to turn our finishing straight into a mudbath.

Since our season ended, at Slušovice, on November 4th, it would have been possible to race most weekends, if we had had an all-weather track and warm enough places for hardy racegoers to gather in. And if we had had a betting industry that would provide support for winter racing here.

In November, considerable numbers of Czech-trained horses continued to be sent to run abroad. Nine horses, all of them prepared by small trainers, were sent to participate in a very modest meeting at Dresden on November 21st. Only one of these horses won any prizemoney (Kool‘s Brother finished in 4th place in a small race), and none of the races carried prizemoney of more than EUR 5 100. I read that there was a crowd of over 8 000 for that midweek raceday at Dresden, and the question was again raised: If Dresden, which is 130 km north of Prague and has a climate similar to that in Prague, can hold a popular raceday quite late in November, why does the Czech season end so early? The answer is clear enough: No Czech racecourse is interested or wants to look for sponsors, and no bookmakers are interested – and if owners, trainers and riders want to extend their season, they can easily enough find races abroad. By mid December, only a small number of our trainers still had horses in full training and were running them in Italy, France and Germany. The rest had gone into hibernation.

The observant reader may have noted that I posted a lot of items on this website at the end of December and at the beginning of January. There had been several interesting events and announcements, and there were some nice articles and interviews that I found time to translate. Knowing that the midwinter period is normally quiet in Czech racing, however, I decided to leave some of my comments on these articles until a later date.

As it turns out, nothing much has seems to have happened in Czech racing in January 2019. I am therefore grateful to have held over some talking points for the current newsletter and, indeed, for future newsletters, even though, strictly speaking, they refer to events that happened back in December.

The big question for January 2019 was how well Josef Váňa junior would start his career as a trainer. The answer is quite simply that he has started brilliantly. It would be ungenerous to point out that he received as a starting-out present some oustanding horses perfectly prepared by his father’s team, of which young Josef had been and remains a key member There are only a limited number of jumps races in Italy in January, all of them at mixed meetings at Pisa. Nine horses trained by Váňa junior started at Pisa in the course of the month, and five of them won. All of the winners were ridden by Josef Bartoš, who on two separate occasions rode a hat-trick of winners, two for Váňa and one for Italian trainer Paolo Favero. This year, as I understand it, Bartoš will ride for Scuderia Aichner, the owner of the horses trained by Váňa junior. His second commitment is to trainer Josef Váňa senior, and his third commitment is to trainer Paolo Favero.

In interviews, Josef Váňa junior naturally reported that he is very pleased that things are going so well for him, and that he is greatly enjoying his new life while the good times are with him. However, he did express a note of caution, asking how long the Italian steeplechasing community will be happy with Czech domination of their sport. A related question is how happy the Czech horseracing community is to have more and more good horses trained here that run only or mainly abroad. The answer to this second question seems to be that we are still very happy with and proud of the successes of the Váňas, mainly over fences in Italy, and Václav Luka, on the flat, mainly in France. Not to mention Subway Dancer’s outstanding 3rd place in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October, and numerous other wins for other Czech-based trainers who have ventured abroad with their horses.

The Dostihový svět English language webpages unequivocally support the internationalization and Europeanization of Czech horseracing, and of horseracing in general. Nevertheless, we also recognise that Czech racegoers would like to see the best Czech-trained horses run here, and we would like to see our best jockeys ride here more (Some of them, in particular Spanish-based Václav Janáček and German-based Bauyrzhan Murzabayev, do their best to ride here and in Slovakia). We would like to be in a position to put on more races at the Czech racecourses that can attract top horses. We want Czech Thoroughbred breeding to survive and to flourish. We can understand that Italian steeplechasing, which has been struggling for a long time, needs greater numbers of talented Italian trainers and jockeys. The sport could die in Italy if Italian heroes do not emerge in sufficient numbers. We should no doubt encourage the tendency of Italian racegoers to consider Josef Bartoš as one of their own!


In the long winter months, I intend to keep returning to issues raised in the interview with Martina Krejčí, general secretary of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic that I translated at the beginning of January www.dostihovy-svet.cz/en/node/8344. This interview was taken by Miloslav Vlček, and first appeared in Czech language in the Fitmin Turf webpages https://dostihy.fitmin.cz/domaci-dostihove-deni/o-uplynule-sezone-planech-do-pristi-i-zmenach-v-jockey-clubu-v-rozhovoru-s-gen-sekretarem-jccr-martinou-krejci.html. 


The last question in this wide-ranging interview was about the decision of the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic to change the differential fees for registering horses purchased abroad, referred to by some as the “import tax”. Until the change, there was a “re-registration fee”, which was CZK 25 000 (almost EUR 1 000) for horses re-registered to run in the Czech Republic and CZK 5 000 for a horse to be trained in the Czech Republic that was not allowed to run in races here. The new rule is that the re-registration fee or import tax will be CZK 17 000 for all racehorses. The name of the tax or fee is of course significant for those of us who claim that an import tax is at the very least incompatible with the spirit of the EU, and that a fee of several hundred euro is excessive for “re-registration”.


The presumed intended consequences are that the cost of importing a horse to be raced only abroad will rise by CZK 12 000 (about EUR 450), and that the owners of horses that are aimed at racing abroad will have a “free option” of running their horse here, for example in one of the Czech classics, or on European Jockeys’ Cup day, or on Velka Pardubicka day, or in one of the steeplechases in the Josef Váňa Cup series of classical steeplechases.where does the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic stand this matter?


Miloslav Vlček asked Martina Krejčí: Is [the change in the re-registation fee] to be seen as an attempt by the Jockey Club to reverse the trend towards lower numbers of runners in the Czech Republic and growing numbers of horses that race only abroad? 


Martina’s answer was very straightforward: Yes. The Jockey Club of the Czech Republic has to try to create conditions mainly for Czech horseracing, for the home environment, and for the way that racing functions here in general. That involves creating the conditions for organizing racing and racehorse training. It’s not for us to provide support for the trend to set up inexpensive training centres here for the horses of foreign owners that race only abroad.