August 2020 newsletter
The weather the Czech Republic was mainly not too hot and not too dry in July 2020, until the second half of the month. Then there was a dry spell, which got quite hot as the end of the month approached. The number of local fires on farmland and on forest land, and also the number of thunderstorms leading to local floods up in the hills, began to increase, as is usual when there is a hot spell here, accompanied by thunderstorms, in the later part of the summer. Now, at the beginning of August, we have had three very wet days in many parts of the country, which will have been welcome to most of our horseracing community.
When writing these newsletters I try, not always successfully, to avoid writing about things I know nothing about, and to avoid making predictions. This principle has made the August 2020 Newsletter a difficult task. The longer the Covid-19 epidemic continues, the less I understand or know about the virus. And I certainly do not have any basis for predicting what the virus will do next. It is difficult even to write about the impact that the virus has already had in the Czech Republic and on Czech horseracing.
As far as I can tell, the virus has been handled rather firmly and effectively in the Czech Republic. This was one of the first countries in Europe to shut down, on March 12th, just before the Cheltenham festival took place in the UK. The initial outbreak was limited, and the strain on the Czech health services was less than had been feared. However, the virus has been persistent. It has not just died out in the summer months, here or anywhere else, as had been hoped in March. Reopening the economy and the schools has been harder than shutting them down. At the end of July, the official statistical data seemed to indicate that local outbreaks are a problem, maybe a growing problem. However, it is unclear whether the Covid situation in the country is generally stable and more or less under control, or whether going back to work, travelling abroad, opening up pubs and restaurants has been too risky. It is hoped that schools will be able to operate as from the beginning of September.
It is also not easy for me to write about the situation in Czech horseracing in the past month (July 2020), and about the prospects even for the near future. Our strange season was able to proceed more or less well in July. The Jockey Club of the Czech Republic and the main flat racecourses (Prague Velká Chuchle, Most and Karlovy Vary) had sprung into action, and race meetings have been held at frequent intervals since the meeting at Most on Monday, May 12th. In May and June, the racing was behind closed doors. In July, limited numbers of spectators were allowed to watch the races. I did not go to any of the meetings myself, and I have not seen any detailed report on how many spectators were allowed and under what conditions. It seems that 2 000 or even 2 500 were allowed in by the end of the month. In my opinion, two or three thousand spectators can quite easily be safely socially distanced at a racecourse, on a dry day, if they want to be.
The only problems that I have read about have been complaints about the preparation of the course for that first meeting at Most, and unhappiness about a number of horses breaking down in the flat races held at Slušovice. At Slušovice, the course had been passed as fit for racing, and a further inspection after the races concluded that the track had been passable, and the fact that three horses had had to be put down in one afternoon was not due to negligence. Nobody was happy, of course.
Czech-trained horses have been travelling to run abroad in Germany (since May 30th), in Italy (since May 31st) in France (since June 16th), in Slovakia (since June 21st), and in Poland (since July 1st). I think the numbers of Czech-trained horses running abroad is almost back to the level of 2019.
Nine race meetings have been announced for the five weekends in August 2020. That is more meetings than has been usual in August in recent years. Only one of them is at an upcountry racecourse – at Netolice, on Sunday, August 16th. In the recent past, July and August offered racing mainly at the upcountry courses and at Karlovy Vary and Most, while Pardubice and Prague Velká Chuchle took an eight-week or nine-week midsummer break. This year, Pardubice is offering 5 days of racing in July and August, including all four of the Velka Pardubicka qualification races. Prague Velká Chuchle has meetings in mid-July and in mid-August, and is also busy with showjumping and other equine events.
The decline of the upcountry courses has been a feature of recent summers here. Days out at Albertovec, Tochovice, Světlá Hora, Benešov and Mimoň used to be something to look forward to. I used to call them the healthy grass roots of Czech racing. All of these racecourses are still used as training centres, but it seems that the modern owner, trainer and jockey (and the modern horse) would prefer to race on carefully-tended, well-equipped, well-dimensioned courses. Světlá Hora has hosted a raceday every year for longer than I can remember. The absence of a meeting this year is perhaps a sign that it is time for a younger generation of enthusiasts to step forward and take on the task of organizing the event. Or a sign that upcountry racing on picturesque but rough-and-ready tracks is an anachronism.
The weekend of August 7th/8th offers some interesting racing. On Sunday, August 8th the Czech Oaks will be run at Karlovy Vary. The day before, there will be a meeting at Pardubice featuring the third of the four Velka Pardubicka qualification races. I presume that Pardubice racecourse has had a lot of rain at the beginning of August, when all regions of the country had plenty of rain, most of which was urgently needed. The racecourse will be in good condition for the qualification race, though an air temperature of 30 degrees is forecast.
The conditions for the first two qualification races were as good as can be expected in July in Pardubice, and most connections ensured that their horses have already qualified successfully. Of the seven entries for the 3rd qualification race on August 8th, three had met in the first qualification race and are already qualified. 2019 VP winner Theophilos won the first qualification race, Mazhilis finished safely in 7th place, and was probably not given a hard race. Direct Lagrange finished 10th, a long way behind. 12-y-o Catch Life is not entered for the Velka, but he has won 9 times in a long career, including the Velká Mostecká in 2017 and a couple of decent races at Treviso. The other three declared runners are very interesting potential contenders for the big race on October 11th. 7-y-o Lodgian Whistle won the Labe Stakes on Velka Pardubicka day last year. In the first qualification race this year, he unseated his rider at the Irish Bank. Shortly afterwards, he then very narrowly missed being at the bottom of a pile-up when he was running loose and dashed straight across the field of horses as they were preparing to jump the Popkovice Turn fence. 9-y-o Talent won VP qualification races impressively in 2018 and again in 2019. His seventh place in last year’s VP, ridden by Leighton Aspell, was less than many had expected. Last but not least, 2017 winner No Time To Lose, trained by Josef Váňa, still needs to qualify for this year’s race. His win in VP 2017 was truly impressive. He has not had many outings since then, and has not run badly in any of them. His trainer is still the greatest, and at the age of 11 No Time To Lose is surely being expertly prepared to be at this best on October 11th.
Let us assume that Lodgian Whistle, Talent and No Time To Lose get round safely on Saturday and qualify for the Velka. That will mean that only a couple of the major Czech-trained contenders remain unqualified. 2018 VP winner Tzigane du Berlais is reckoned not to like hard ground and high temperatures, so either of the June qualification races might have suited him, and it is far from sure that he will get the desired conditions in August. In an interview published in Czech language on this website, Petr Guth asked owner Jiří Charvát about the plans for last year‘s favourite for the Velka, which fell at the Taxis. He said that No Time To Lose is being aimed at the Velka, preferably via the 4th qualification race, to be run at Pardubice on August 29th. However, Dr. Charvát is also prepared to take the horse abroad to qualify. Chicname de Cotte, which sprung a surprise by finishing a close third in VP 2019, has not appeared on a racecourse this year, and I have no information about him.
I thought that I should write in some detail about the preparations for this year’s Velka Pardubicka. I would like readers to know that everyone in Czech racing wants the race to be run. Trainers have been preparing the contenders ever since the 2019 VP was run, and the organizers are going ahead. Only the virus can stop it.