Czech Radio interview with Countess Lata Brandisová after her winning ride in the Velka Pardubicka in 1937

Czech Radio interview with Countess Lata Brandisová after her winning ride in the Velka Pardubicka in 1937

When Richard Askwith, author of the book Unbreakable, about the life and times of Countess Lata Brandisová, winning rider in the Velka Pardubicka in 1937, was interviewed on Czech Radio in 2018, he asked the interviewer, David Vaughan, if there were any surviving recordings of Lata in the Czech Radio archives. David Vaughan did manage to find an interview, but the sound version is lost and it survives only as a transcript. It was recorded just after Lata’s historic victory in the Velka Pardubicka of 1937. David Vaughan translated an extract

Unbreakable will be published in English language in March.

Interviewer: With the victory of Miss Lata Brandisová this year… the little world of sport in our country achieved a truly great success. On Czechoslovak turf we’ve never seen anything quite like the great victory of this agreeable and modest rider on her brave mare Norma. All of us who followed the exciting race either with our own eyes or through our radio sets, take pride in the trophy which Miss Brandisová has brought back to us. But Miss Brandisová herself is the best person to tell us how she managed it. Was it difficult? 

Lata: Not for me. I have great faith in the horses from Chlumec and my cousin Count Kinský was a great trainer. He refused even to contemplate the idea that I might not manage the jumps. He encouraged me to take part in the Velká Pardubická and sorted out everything so that I would be allowed to start. To be quite honest I find it harder talking into the microphone. 

Interviewer: As a lady rider, did you require a special permit to ride? 

Lata: The rules for racing in Europe do not yet allow ladies to take part in steeplechases, but nor do they forbid them. The male riders and professional jockeys accepted me as a colleague, they were always polite to me. 

Interviewer: Didn’t they look on you with mistrust and feel that their male pride was under threat? 

Lata: Maybe at the start. Like every novice I had to prove what I could do, and so much more as a lady novice.

Interviewer: The Velká Pardubická is known as the toughest steeplechase on the continent. What impression did it make on you? 

Lata: It didn’t bring any surprises at all… I was undaunted the first time I took part ten years ago, and it was the same this year. I felt a huge responsibility, partly because of my cousin Count Kinský… who intervened to make it possible for me to start, but also because of all the interest among the sport-loving public. It made me determined to complete the course with both myself and my horse in one piece, come what may. There was no question of giving up. It was my great ambition to win the Velká Pardubická ever since I first completed the course with the mare Nevěsta despite falling so many times. I tried it again on Norbert and once I’d got used to Norma, I really believed it was possible. 

Interviewer: With Norma, was it love at first sight? 

Lata: I didn’t have much faith in her to start with. She was rather small and weak. But she proved herself to be a fine cross-country horse with stamina… She jumped wisely and calmly over everything that came her way, and she was nice and fast on the course… Before long we were true friends. We got on better every day, my faith in the little mare grew more and more and in the end I believed that we two female spirits could one day win this great race. 

Interviewer: So did you have a feeling that you might win this year? 

Lata: I knew that Norma was in excellent form, but you can never count on victory – anyone doing that would be making a mistake… Given the strong competition our position wasn’t easy. Norma and I had to be really careful, we tried not to waste any energy, and I was determined not to fall. We both stretched our womanly resources to the limit, focused our minds and tried to avoid mistakes… We kept a good pace with the others and soon we were in the leading group. As we neared the end of the course and Norma was jumping cleanly, I became increasingly sure that… unless Norma fell, we would win. She didn’t fall and with her strength still fresh, she increased her pace for the final gallop as the finishing post approached. 

Interviewer: Crossing the finishing post as winner must have been a wonderful feeling. 

Lata: I was thrilled with our victory… I’ll never forget the moment when thousands and thousands of arms were waving to me, when everyone cried out “Norma” and when everyone was sharing the same joy, applauding and celebrating our victory. I had the feeling that people had never been as open and united in friendship as at the moment of my victory and that was the greatest and loveliest reward. 

Interviewer: Will we see you again on the course with Norma? 

Lata: This victory marked the end of Norma’s career. From now on she will be able to rest at home at the stables. But there’s another Chlumec mare that I like. She’s called Nazdar and has every chance of becoming another Norma, so I hope one day to defend the Kinský colours once again on the course in Pardubice. 

Interviewer: You’re not meant to wish sportsmen and women good luck, in case it brings the opposite. But we shall always be crossing our fingers for you. With all our hearts, we hope that this will not be the last occasion of a Czech sportswoman winning the Velká Pardubická. 

There was no Velká pardubická for the next seven years, first because of the German annexation of the Sudetenland and then with the war, but Lata Brandisová did ride the race again in 1946 and 1947. She fell on both occasions, and in the end it was a further injury that brought an end to her career in 1949. Had she carried on, it is unlikely that the new regime in Czechoslovakia would have allowed her to compete for much longer. She just didn’t fit their idea of a sporting hero in a communist society. Her record as the only woman to win the Great Pardubice Steeplechase stands to this day.


This interview with Countess Lata Brandisová first appeared on the Czech Radio website.