January 2020 newsletter

I started writing this January 2020 newsletter, and then I thought I had better reread the December 2019 newsletter. I am glad I did. If there is one thing worse than repeating oneself, it is repeating oneself without recognizing it.


A month ago, I began by reporting on the weather here in November. Well, the weather in Prague in December was a continuation of our weather in November, but with shorter days and slightly lower temperatures. There has been frequent moderate rainfall, and an unusually high number of dull, foggy mornings, but very little snow or ice. There was no white Christmas in Prague, and there will be no snow here on new yearʼs day. I am happy about that, but I am also happy that snow is in the forecast for new yearʼs day up in the mountains. Winter sports are very popular here, and for many people a brisk 20 kilometres of crosscountry skiing on new yearʼs day seems to be the traditional and ideal way to begin the year.


Talking of winter sports, that skating rink has reappeared at Pardubice racecourse. This time, it is located on the car parking area behind the parade ring - which is the correct place for it. It will generate a modest amount of revenue, and, above all, it will provide a well-equipped open-air skating rink for the people of Pardubice, who are shareholders in the racecourse area.


A lot of Czech-trained horses continued to race abroad in December, in France, Italy or Germany. They have been picking up some nice prizemoney. At any time, you can find a list of Czech-trained horses entered for races abroad on http://www.dostihyjc.cz/aviza.php.


It is currently mainly a matter of trainer Václav Luka, junior sending horses to run on the flat in France, and trainer Josef Váňa, junior sending jumpers to Italy. The Luka and Váňa training centres aim to send out runners all winter. Most of the horses trained there are focused on running for the much bigger prizemoney that a good horse can win abroad.


Václav Luka has some Czech owners who like their horses to run here once or twice a year. Josef Váňa, junior trains for Scuderia Aichner. The Italian owner’s horses have until now run almost exclusively in Italy, and with great success, but young Josef, and also jockey Josef Bartoš, are often quoted as saying that Mr Aichner is not in principle against winning big steeplechases in France and having another go at the Velka Pardubicka. A few years ago, Scuderia Aichner’s horse Fatal Mac ran in our Velka. In fact, Josef Váňa, snr famously grabbed a whip from the hand of Fatal Mac’s jockey, Rafaello Romano, after Havel’s fence, when the great jockey had dropped his own whip and judged, correctly, that Fatal Mac was dropping out of contention, while Váňa himself still stood a chance of winning some prizemoney.


After letting his biggest owner arrange for his horses to be trained by his son, Josef Váňa, snr is still training. He has some Italian owners, and also some Czech owners that focus on the Velká Pardubicka and the Czech Derby. This year’s Velka Pardubicka winner, Theophilos, trained by Josef Váňa, snr, is owned by a large consortium of Czech horseracing fans.


Some other trainers keep just one or two horses in full training in the winter months. Most small trainers still go into a hibernation mode, either when our local season ends at the beginning of November or when some combination of mud, snow, ice, staffing problems and owners instructions makes it unprofitable to prepare one or two moderate horses to run at some distant racecourse.


I have reported within the last month on these pages that there is a new president of the Czech Jockey Club. Josef Bečvář retired in 2018 after serving as Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. He has owned a couple of Category IV racehorses for the last five or six seasons. That is all I know about him. I hope that his election will be good for him and good for Czech racing.


I have also recently translated an interview that Miloslav Vlček conducted with Martin Pecka, racecourse manager at what I still call Prague Velká Chuchle racecourse. The headquarters of Czech flat racing, where the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic has its offices, is known to the Czech horseracing community as Velká Chuchle, or as Chuchle. Everybody who matters here knows that the racecourse is just a few kilometres upstream from Charles Bridge, on the left bank of the River Vltava, and right beside Velká Chuchle railway station. However, the English-speaking horseracing community might assume that Velká Chuchle is some remote and inaccessible location. No, it is inside the city boundary, and thirteen minutes by suburban train from the main station. The racecourse area has been rebranded as Chuchle Arena Prague.


Two years ago, property developer Radovan Vítek bought a majority shareholding in this crucial racecourse. He has declared that he wants to develop the area for a wider range of equestrian activities, especially showjumping. His wife and daughters are actively involved in the sport. The trouble is that owning, developing and running a racecourse area, or arena, in the Czech Republic is unprofitable and thankless. Let us hope that the Vítek family will not get tired of subsidizing equestrian sport and maintaining a high-quality racecourse area inside the suburbs of Prague.


Wishing everyone a good new decade.