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Velka heroes

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Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase

Velka Heroes

This page salutes the greats (and not so greats) of the Velka Pardubicka`s recent history. I like lists so compiled this initially as a top ten but then I realised there were so many that I added some more. No surprises who is Number One. I have concentrated on the Velkas post 1979 so there is no room for three times winner Korok or one of my favourites from the long distant past, the wonderful Lancaster, the hero of 1978.

1 - Josef Vana - Greatest

The man is quite simply a legend - to still be riding in the Velka in his sixties is nothing short of extraordinary. I was still at school when he made his Velka debut in 1985. A relatively late entrant into racing he was in his late twenties when he first rode in the Velka having worked in jobs as varied as construction and mountain rescue as well as performing his military service. He had his fair share of horrible injuries along the way and in 1994 he technically died after a fall at Baden Baden in Germany (which resulted in him having part of his lung removed). He was back in the saddle within ten weeks. He took up training in 1995 and was champion trainer for the first time in 1997 and in terms of winners has been leading trainer every year since then. He regularly sends horses to contest the top prizes in Italy and was once even champion trainer of Germany. Having restricted his rides to the Velka and the odd prep race by 2007 he looked finished after a broken arm suffered in a last fence fall ruled him out of that years Velka and in 2009 after a lacklustre display at Albertovec he was dismissed by most racing hacks (and an amateur observer from Kent) as way past his best. Three more Velka wins on Tiumen since then and we were left marvelling at his fitness. He was supposed to have finally retired after he was uncharacteristically unseated in 2013 but he was back a year later to ride Tiumen one last time. Tiumen was retired after the 2014 Velka and it was then that the worlds oldest professional jumps jockey finally hung up his boots.

Josef Vanas Velka record

1985 : PARAMON - finished second but not after his mount dived head-first into the then fearsome Snake Ditch water jump (fence 17).
1986 : PARAMON - the horse clearly remembered his ducking the previous year. This time he refused, pitching Vana into the water.
1987 : ZELEZNIK - a first victory at the third time for both horse and rider and he broke the record too - the first sub-ten minute Velka.
1988 : ZELEZNIK - win number two. Not so fast this year but still easy.
1989 : ZELEZNIK - a much harder task this year as there were many pretenders to his crown but a third victory nonetheless.
1990 : ZELEZNIK - Zeleznik either won the race or failed to get round. This year he uncharacteristically refused at Popkovices Turn (7) - Vana came out the other side but without his horse.
1991 : ZELEZNIK - normal service resumed with a record fourth victory but not after the drama of being brought down at Poplars rails (13) - the greatest riding performance ever seen at Pardubice (and probably ranks alongside Fred Winters heroics aboard Mandarin).
1992 : ZELEZNIK - Zelezniks Velka career ended in anti-climax when he was brought down at the Taxis. 
1993 : BAROUK - another exit at the Taxis and an anxious moment when he was momentarily caught up in the stirrups.
1994 : VYSERHRAD - Vana should not have ridden this year as this was only weeks after his near fatal fall in Germany. Vyserhrad made a lot of the running but faded and an exhausted Vana pulled up in the closing stages.
1995 : MATIA MOU - finished fourth in that rarest of things in the Velka - a blanket finish.
1996 : VRONSKY - pulled up in the closing stages but at least he gained some compensation by training the winner for the first time with Cipisek.
1997 : VRONSKY - just held on to deny the fast finishing Marketplace - a fifth win as a rider and second as a trainer.
1998 : CIPISEK - he had the choice of two former Velka winners but had no luck this year as they were both amongst nine brought down at Popkovices Turn.
1999 : VRONSKY - the horse in the twilight of his career finished an honourable sixth.
2000 : Amazingly Vana was without a ride and saddled no runners. To make up for it he did ride a treble on the card.
2001 : STORM OF FIRE - finished eighth
2002 : KEDON - Vana dreamed he would win a Velka on a white horse - this one looked to fit the bill but he could only finish third in the mud.
2003 : DECENT FELLOW - another third place on a Velka legend.
2004 : RETRIEVER - running in the colours that would be made famous by Tiumen this fragile runner chased home the legendary Registana.
2005 : KEDON - another honourable placing in fourth.
2006 : JUVENTUS - I always reckoned this one would be good enough to win a Velka - second was the best he could do - Vana trained the winner though, the popular Decent Fellow.
2007 : No ride this year due to a broken arm but he trained the winner again with Sixteen.
2008 : JUVENTUS - he lost his whip and finished down the field in sixth place - surely the time had come to hang up his boots (stick to the training Josef - another winner).
2009 - 2011 - TIUMEN - three wins and the critics were silenced.
2012 - TIUMEN - Another great performance but it was not enough this year- third
2013 - TIUMEN - The years were catching up with Tiumen and he was unluckily hampered at the last fence and we had the rare sight of Vana walking up the Pardubice home straight.
2014 -TIUMEN - A low-key ending. Tiumen was always in rear this year and finished amongst the backmarkers.

Total : Eight wins as a rider - ten as a trainer

2 - Sagar - The greatest hat-trick hero

The Velka is a race that regularly throws out multiple winners. Epigraf, Korok, Sagar, Zeleznik, Peruan, Tiumen and Orphee des Blins all triumphed three times.....everyone has their favourite. For many there has never been a greater Velka horse than Korok. For some four time winner Zeleznik is the greatest. However, for me the best was the little chestnut SAGAR who won three Velkas between 1981 and 1983 and dominated Czech racing in a manner that has not been seen before or since. Brought from the Soviet Union in 1979 after five unplaced efforts on the flat SAGAR made his Czech debut at the now defunct course at Hluboka nad Vltavou on his one hurdles start where he finished unplaced. Six races over fences followed which yielded victories at Pardubice and Bratislava. From 1980, however he was pretty much invincible and between 1980 and 1983 he won seventeen of his nineteen races. He won each of his Velkas as he pleased and for the most part he toyed with the opposition. Usually he would be held up in the early stages of the race and in 1981 he was last over the Taxis where he made his only ever mistake in a Velka when he stumbled on landing. Letting others do the hard work he would bide his time before making his move. He was in control by the last three hurdles and he won each time unchallenged. His Velkas coincided with a return to Pardubice after a seven year absence of the Soviets who had very high hopes for a repeat of the domination that they had enjoyed during the fifties and early sixties. In 1982 they had very high hopes for VEK and NABOR and the two were still some way clear of SAGAR after Havels Jump. With almost contemptuous ease SAGAR swept past the pair between the final two hurdles to the absolute delight of the Czech crowd and recorded perhaps his easiest victory. By 1983 he was still only eight and it looked as if he would continue to dominate at Pardubice for years to come. Sadly it was not to be. In his one prep race for the 1984 Velka on 4th August at Pardubice SAGAR broke down so badly that his racing career was over. It was a tragedy as I have no doubt SAGAR would have won the 1984 and 1985 Velka easily. The Soviet EROT who survived a race of some considerable carnage had been easily beaten by SAGAR in 1983 and the 1985 hero FESTIVAL (who ran in the same colours as SAGAR) was considered to be vastly inferior. SAGAR enjoyed a long and happy retirement at the Kladruby stud and occasionally returned to Pardubice to lead the parade. SAGAR won three Velkas easily...it so should have been more. Photograph by Vladimir David

3 - Registana - wonder mare & my favourite

Yes I know she only won two Velkas but it`s my website. A full sister to the useful German steeplechaser Registano, the German bred Registana raced just once in her native Germany finishing unplaced in a hurdle race at Gelsenkirchen as a three year old in 1999. Moving to Cestmir Olehlas stable the following year she was campaigned exclusively over fences winning on her debut at Bratislava in May 2000. It was not initially apparent that Olehla had a superstar in his midsts as Registana won only four of her next twelve starts including a win in the Cena Casch, the leading chase for Czech owned four & five year olds on Velka day in 2000. The first signs of the great things to come came with a win on Velka day 2001 in the Vlatavy Prize. This was the beginning of Registanas dominance over the next three years which would see her win fourteen of her next fifteen starts. Ineligible for the Velka in 2002 she was aimed for the Grand Premio di Merano although en route she collected her first of four straight wins in the June Velka qualifier, the Milos Svoboda Memorial. She was unplaced in the Grand Premio (the only time this happened to her over fences) and from 2003 all efforts were concentrated on the Velka combining racing at Pardubice and Merano. In 2003 she went through the year unbeaten in four starts culminating with her first Velka under German champion jockey Peter Gehm. Clear at the last she gave her supporters some nervous moments in the closing stages when she seemed to tire and lose concentration before rallying to hold off the fast finishing Maskul. 2004 saw more of the same with another five straight wins at Merano and Pardubice culminating with her second Velka. This performance was probably her greatest. She dominated the race throughout and won very impressively with Maskul this time a distant fourth. This was Registanas defining moment and it could be said that the rest of her career was something of an anti-climax. A month after the Velka she and Gehm travelled to England to contest the Sporting Index Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham. It is a great trubute to Registana that despite this being her first start in the UK she started a hot favourite in a competitive field. Jumping well throughout she was a clear leader approaching the second last when Gehm took the wrong course and Registana was robbed of what looked at the time of certain victory. Tragically this was to be one of Gehms last rides as less than a month later he was paralysed in a schooling accident. 2005 was billed as Registanas swansong with retirement to the paddocks beckoning after an expected third Velka triumph. Partnered now by Irishman James Crowley, she won her fourth Svoboda Memorial and two races at Merano but rumours were rife that all was not well and that she had suffered setbacks in training. She still started a hot favourite for the Velka although she only got as far as the second fence where she sensationally fell for the only time in her career. I was there that day and I have never witnessed such a stunned reaction from a crowd as Registana galloped riderless towards the Taxis. All talk of retirement was now put on hold as it was said that her career could not be allowed to end on such a low ebb. So one final attempt at the Velka was planned although she was to be campaigned exclusively at Pardubice with just one prep race. Sadly she did not make it to the Velka as after finishing second to stable companion Hastaven in the qualifier, Registana came back with several scratches and it was decided to retire her there and then. Retiring to the paddocks, her first foal Regine ran in the three year old hurdle on Velka day. Registana will always be my favourite Velka runner. She fuelled my interest in Czech jump racing. Years of following racing has taught me that no animal is irreplaceable but she was pretty wonderful and I am so grateful to have seen her run even if it was for only two fences.

4 - Zeleznik - Most wins

ZELEZNIK may have won more Velkas than any other horse but it is the manner of his fourth victory in 1991 that makes him truly great. If this had been his only win he would still be in this list. Starting a hot favourite on the back of easy victories in his two prep races (and his three previous Velka victories) he survived the usual cull of runners at the Taxis and was amongst the leaders as the field took the turn into Poplars rails. Then the unthinkable happened, the leader DRAK took the turn at an unusually wide angle. Veteran jockey Vaclav Chaloupka found himself desperately using all his strength to steady the horse and coax him round the turn to jump the fence. He managed to do so but as DRAK ran back on course he came close to DISCO, the mount of English amateur Marcus Armytage. Unsighted DISCO crashed through the top of the rails and came down in a horrible fall. ZELEZNIK right behind him had no-where to go and in an instant the champion had turned a somersault and Vana was on the floor. There was a gasp from the crowd. Both horses were quick on their feet (although poor DISCO was clearly injured) as was the sprightly Vana. As the leaders made their way to the Drop Vana could just be seen in the background remounting ZELEZNIK. The task was hopeless. They were over a furlong behind and were now with the ranks of the tail-enders who had been remounted having fallen at the Taxis earlier in the race. By the second "In and Out" ZELEZNIK was still a distance behind the leaders but making up an enormous amount of ground. Getting closer and closer to the delight of the crowd ZELEZNIK and Vana caught up and jumped into the lead by the big English Jump. Driven on by Vana he drew clear to record a sensational three length victory over DRAK who had cause all the problems in the first place. Breathtaking. This is the greatest riding performance in the history of the Velka and right there with the greatest rides of all time over fences. As good as Fred Winters heroics on Mandarin in Paris. Of course ZELEZNIK won three other Velkas in 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1988 he smashed the course record to become the first horse to win the Velka in under ten minutes. His record has long been broken but this milestone was the Czech equivalent of Roger Bannisters four minute mile. He also jointly holds the record for the most appearances in a Velka with eight but it is surprising that his four victories were the only times he finished .In his last ever racecourse appearance at the age of fourteen he was brought down at the Taxis in 1992. Four wins out of eight starts is still pretty impressive. ZELEZNIK won thirty of his forty seven starts over fences and would have stayed in training but for a leg injury sustained a few weeks after his last Velka start. He enjoyed a long retirement before he died on 22nd December 2004. 
Photograph : Anna Jezkova (I "borrowed" this from the www.horses-online.cz site - if you object to the photo being placed here I will remove it immediately)

5 - The Taxis

 Fence Number Four, the most famous obstacle on the course. The Czech equivalent of Bechers Brook. Not designed with spectators in mind. For the best views you have to be on the landing side or watching the race on Czech TV. Before modifications in 1994 it used to wipe out up to three quarters of the field. 1979 saw the worst pile up when fourteen of the eighteen runners fell here (surely a world record). One statistic to note though. Between 1979 and 1993 it claimed 115 out of the 253 horses who jumped it. A staggering 45.5 % . Since 1994 it has only claimed 9.87 %. It is still big (standing in the ditch is one of the ten things in racing you must do before you die) but it is not the fearsome beast it once was. Photograph by Tomas Svaton.

6 - Peruan - The peoples favourite hat-trick hero

A grandson of the legendary Korok, Peruan emulated his great relative by winning the Velka three times from six attempts. Peruan ran on the flat winning four of his twenty starts and (bypassing hurdles) made a winning debut over fences when winning at the Slovak track at Toplociancy in June 1993. Peruan won a Category Two steeplechase on Velka day in 1994 and was successful in supporting races on the same card in 1995 & 1996. Making a belated debut in the Velka in 1997 at the age of nine Peruan showed a dislike of the bank fences, running out when leading at the Irish Bank before continuing and coming a cropper at the drop bank after he had miraculously managed to retake the lead. After that first Velka debacle Peruan was sent over to Cheltenham to contest the Sporting Index Cross Country Chase. There he ran the race of his life with Vladimir Snitkovskij on board finishing a close second to Fifysevenchannels and that performance remains the best ever by a Czech trained runner in the UK. Thereafter Peruan concentrated on the Velka and only ran one other race away from Pardubice during the rest of his career. Now ridden by Zdenik Matysik Peruan won the next three Velkas effortlessly. His best performance came in 1999 when he beat Irish legend Risk of Thunder by ten lengths breaking the course record in the process. By the time he lined up for his third Velka in 2000 such was his dominance that he faced the weakest field ever to line up for the great race having scared all the serious opposition away. Peruan often ran his race in snatches and appeared comfortable either making the running or coming from off the pace as he would often drop himself out in the early stages of a race. Sometimes (as in his 2000 win) he would do both. At the age of thirteen he won his final race before narrowly being denied an unprecedented fourth straight success in the Velka. Having clearly been impeded by the winner Chalco in the closing stages Matysik objected but Chalco kept the race. Peruan made one final attempt at the Velka at the age of fourteen but his age was showing and he was pulled up in the closing stages. Many were surprised to see him amongst the entries in 2002 as he was now fifteen years old. Common sense prevailed but he did run in the Velka qualifier in August 2003. Leading for a while he was given a rousing reception as he passed the stands before dropping away to finish ninth. Wisley he was not asked to run in the Velka and he was retired although he returns to Pardubice to lead the Velka parade which he continues to do each year. Peruan has a web-site dedicated to him at www.peruan.cz 

7 Orphee des Blins - a second wonder mare

This French mare started her career in her native France in the hands of Patrice Quinton. Twice successful on the flat in 2005 she won a hurdle at Pau in 2006 and a steeplechase at Auteuil later that year. However, she did not capitalise on that early success and was nothing more than useful in cross country events in the French provinces over the next two years (although she did pick up a couple of small races). Moving to the Czech Republic in August 2009 she made her debut for Jaroslav Myska in the Cena Labe and ran creditably without troubling the leaders. The following year did not start well as she unseated at the very first fence in a conventional steeplechase but won her next start easily. That was her last start for nearly two years. When she returned in 2012 she was twice victorious at Pardubice but was completely unconsidered and allowed to start at 53.5-1 for her first Velka. Now trained by Polish legend Greg Wroblewski and ridden by Jan Faltejesek she took the lead at the start and never saw another horse. She won as she pleased by sixteen lengths in one of the the most dominant displays ever seen at Pardubice. She was never beaten at Pardubice again - seven starts, two Velkas (the second by a distance) and only once did Faltejesek ever have to show her the whip when she was challenged by Al Jaz in the closing stages of her third Velka. By now she was thirteen years old and she had run her last race. Was she better than Registana ? I would have to say no - Registana dominated both at Pardubice and at Merano whereas Orphee des Blins raced exclusively at Pardubice. Both did run in the Cross Country Chase at Chelteham, Registana would have won had she not taken the wrong course two out whilst Orphee des Blins weakened in the final circuit and was pulled up. Still Orphee won three Velkas something Registana could not manage. To have two such wonderful mares racing during the first part of the twenty first century though was still quite something.

8 - Sixteen - a favourite grey

Everyone loves a grey, especially a brave, tough and durable one like the little grey mare Sixteen. She ran in six Velkas being victorious in 2007 and awarded the race in the stewards room a year later. She first attracted attention in 2005 winning two valuable steeplechases at Merano in Italy before winning the 2006 Labe Prize in a desperate struggle with Bargiel (the official distance was a nose). In 2007 she won the Velka as she pleased having won her qualifier effortlessly. Despite only finishing first past the post twice since then the manner of her second place in 2011 was something very special. For a mare who likes to be held up it was rare to see her making the running but for most of the race she led the field a merry dance and after the American rails (picture by Tomas Svaton above) I honestly believed a third Velka was hers. It wasn`t to be of course but she he still gave Tiumen a good run for his money on the run in. 

9. Charlie Mann - most unlikely winner

I am sure he won`t object to the term but Charlie Mann's career in the saddle in the UK could best be described as "journeyman" as he plied his trade on the southern circuit. He won a total of 149 races between 1979 and 1988 and rode in four Grand Nationals. His best moment probably came when he blazed the trail on the first circuit of the 1986 Grand National on 500-1 shot Doubleuagain and was still in front when a loose horse knocked him out of the saddle at the seventeenth. A broken neck sustained at Warwick in 1988 ended his first career in the saddle and after a few years doing "this and that" he took out a trainers licence in August 1993. He first visited Pardubice in 1990 and was due to partner Irish horse Navallus who was a last minute withdrawal. As he watched the race from the stands he realised that the Velka was a race that could easily be won by a Brit if the right horse was aimed at it. A few years later he found one, an ex-Irish horse from Ted Walsh who had finished a race over the banks course at Punchestown. He was a good jumper but notoriously slow (he would later become the lowest rated horse to run in the Grand National when he lined up in 1995). It`s A Snip first attempted the Velka in 1994 and Charlie decided to ride him. Where he got his licence from is something of a mystery - I know he approached the Arab racing society and got fined by the Jockey Club for his efforts - I think eventually he printed it himself. It`s A Snip gave him a safe ride and they finished an honourable second behind runaway winner Erudit. Undeterred they tried a year later and in the tightest and most exciting finish seen at Pardubice for years they won. I was there that day and it remains one of the best races I have ever seen. Charlie hung up his boots a second time after the race and when It`s a Snip ran in his third Velka a year later he was ridden by Richard Dunwoody. Charlie Mann remained a good friend to Pardubice saddling several runners over the years and whilst the love affair seems to have come to an end he has done much to raise the Velkas profile with British and Irish racegoers. 

10 - Zdenik Matysik and a selfless act - 1993

There was much nervousness around the Velka in 1993. A year before Pardubice had been stunned by the mass protests of animal rights activists who descended in their hundreds to the racecourse and disrupted proceedings for nearly an hour as they fought with riot police. Two more horses had died during that years race which meant that more protest was inevitable. Pardubice was enveloped in a ring of steel with as many Police and security guards present as racegoers. In an initial attempt to stem the tide of criticism the Pardubice executive introduced vigorous vetinary screening for all Velka runners which meant that whilst eighteen horses were declared, nine were ruled unfit to run including sensationally the 1992 hero Quirinus. For the first time in forty five years there was to be a single figure field for the Velka. Matters were made even worse when six of the nine fell or refused at the Taxis and only one was remounted. When that effort got no further than the sixth fence we were left with just three runners standing to fight out a very dull affair. The outsider of the three FARAD was  some way behind the other two. When MIKI buried his rider at the Big English jump and the race was reduced to a match it still did not look like FARAD was going to get any closer to the ex-Russian trained RIGOLETTO. A short burst from FARAD between the last two hurdles made it briefly look like there may be a contest but ultimately RIGOLETTO went clear approaching the last. As RIGOLETTO jumped the final hurdle, FARAD looked to alter his stride and he landed awkwardly. Something was wrong and after jumping the last and only one hundred yards from the line Matysik took the brave decision to pull up FARAD and dismount. The horse was clearly lame and it was believed that he may have trod on a stone. Matysik cast a crestfallen figure as he threw his helmet onto the ground. The record books will show that RIGOLETTO finished the 1993 Velka Pardubicka alone. However, there was much praise for Matysik and his selfless act. The organisers at Pardubice decided to award the second place prize money to FARAD`s connections and Matysik later that year was awarded with the Czech Olympic Committee Fair Play Prize. Matysiks act did much to help the image of the Velka Pardubicka and whilst the antis have not gone away completely Pardubice no longer resembles a war zone. Matysik did of course go on to greater things riding PERUAN in each of three Velka triumphs (see above)

11 - Decent Fellow & Maskul - two warriors

Between them they ran in fourteen Velkas between 2001 and 2008. Their record :-  three wins, four seconds, two thirds and one fourth. MASKUL, one year older was bred in America for a successful career on the flat. His sire was the very useful miler Lear Fan who won the 1984 Craven Stakes and he won two small races in twenty starts on the level. DECENT FELLOW hailed from Germany and raced just over fences. Both ran in the Velka seven times, meeting on five occasions. Twice MASKUL won the Velka, both in very different circumstances and both times it was DECENT FELLOW who chased him home. In 2002 MASKUL won by seven lengths in desperately heavy going and three years later it was a hard fought half length victory on top of the ground conditions which saw him prevail after the two had enthralled the Pardubice crowd with their duel up the home straight. When DECENT FELLOW finally won his Velka at the fifth time of asking in 2006 MASKUL had disappeared with an uncharacteristic fall at fence 10A. Away from the Velka the two enjoyed widely different careers, MASKUL rarely raced away from Pardubice where he won five other chases whilst DECENT FELLOW ran throughout Europe. He enjoyed particular success in Germany where he won four times at Baden-Baden and once at Bremen in sixteen starts there. He also ran in Poland, Belgium and Italy (winning once at Merano) and he even raced twice over the cross country course at Cheltenham. Who was the better ? Whilst DECENT FELLOW had a one hundred per cent completion rate he only once finished ahead of two times faller MASKUL. It doesn`t matter though - there may have been better steeplechasers than these two but their durability and toughness made them the most popular of horses and when they finally called it a day after ninety nine races over jumps between them Czech racing was all the poorer.  

12 - Monsieur Andre Bocquet - least successful rider

I have not been able to find out too much about Monsieur Andre Bocquet`s record as a rider in his native France but in six rides in the Velka between 1992 and 1999 he achieved cult status. One of two French raiders (the first from their country to compete at Pardubice since 1947), he first came to Pardubice in 1992 riding PACHA DE FERCE. Sadly both French horses came down at the Taxis. PACHA DE FERCE hardly rose at all and gave Monsieur Bocquet a crashing fall. He was left unconscious as medics frantically gave him heart massage at the scene. Declared clinically dead he was airlifted to hospital in Prague where he remained unconscious for five days. One might have thought that that would have been enough to put him off trying again however undeterred he returned in 1994 with PACHA DE FERCE once again in tow. The horse was in fine heart having won two small races in Brittany but in the Velka itself even a modified Taxis was too much. Fall number two. PACHA DE FERCE did not race again but our Gallic hero returned for the next three Velkas with URANIUN, a three times winner in his native France. In 1995 they fell....... at the Taxis. In 1997 he was unseated....at the Taxis. But in between, in 1996 Bocquet achieved his ambition. Held up in a big field they were some way behind the other runners in the early stages and after making a splash at the first water jump he approached the Taxis in splendid isolation. Flying the fearsome ditch in magnificent style for the first time Bocquet got to the landing side still attached to his mount. Perhaps it was all too much for him as at the very next fence, the Irish Bank, URANIUIN refused and Bocquet once again hit the Pardubice turf he had come to know and love so well. Apparently though he returned to France delighted to have got so far. It is not recorded how he felt after his final Velka ride in 1999 on AS DE L`ACHASSERIE who carried Bocquet to the unheard of heights of the "In and Out" where he ended his Velka career wedged in the fence.

13 - Jiri Sindler - started the most Velkas

No tapes in Czech racing, all races are started by a red flag. Jiri Sindler started his first Velka in 1965 and started the next thirty two (not counting 1968, his final Velka was in 1998). The starter is always featured in the "team" photograph of the jockeys in the paddock before the race and after he had posed for the cameras, Sindler would position himself by the parade ring and as each horse and rider walked past him he would give them all a smile and a thumbs up. His starting style was simple, raising the red flag, when he was satisfied they were ready he would bring the flag down and shout "Gooooooooo" at the top of his voice. Only once did he have to call a false start in 1982. He became something of a superstar at Pardubice and no other Czech starter has had the same impact since (Sindlers immediate successor shouted "staaaarrrt" as he brought the flag down, but it wasn`t quite the same).

14 - Tiumen - overshadowed by his jockey

He may have won three Velkas in impressive style but Tiumen is somehow the forgotten Velka hero. Of course when your rider is the legendary Josef Vana that is perhaps hardly surprising and to be honest it was not until his third victory in 2011 that we started paying him some long overdue attention. But let us not take anything away from Tiumen. He ran is six Velkas and won three of them on the bounce and set the crowd into delerium. As for his three Velka wins there was a different theme to each one. He surprised us in 2009 but won convincingly, he won by the most controversial "nose" in 2010 and when we were finally convinced that he was in fact a Velka great and would win easily in 2011 he gave us the most almighty scare by scraping his nose along the Pardubice turf after getting the Taxis all wrong.  Photograph by Tomas Svaton.

15 - Vladimir Vinklarek - the man who kept remounting

I did wonder whether a man who rode in thirteen Velkas, who fell in eleven of them, remounted after nine of those falls and who never finished higher than fifth should be in a list of Velka heroes. Indeed there are many racegoers who would be horrified at the thought. However, Vinklarek gets into the list as not only did he never give up he also holds the record for the most falls at the Taxis. Not many were floored by the great ditch before and after modifications but this man was. I cannot tell you how old Mr Vinklarek is but he made his Velka debut in 1979 on LAMPAS who would be his partner in the next five Velkas. For five consecutive years from 1979 to 1983 LAMPAS and Vinklarek lined up with brave hopes for Velka glory and for five consecutive years they fell at the Taxis. In so doing LAMPAS achieved the equine record for the most falls at the fence. Remarkably neither our intrepid horse or rider were ever injured and each time Vinklarek was able to remount quite easily. Only once did LAMPAS ever look like he might get away from his sprightly rider....usually Vinklarek was up before his horse (not surprising some might say as in 1982 and 1983 LAMPAS did not even clear the ditch but fell into it). In 1979 they did manage to complete the course and finished a very distant fifth behind LEGENDA but thereafter they always found another fence too much for them. To his credit Vinklarek would only ever remount once. In 1981 when looking booked for a place the pair stopped at the Big English Jump (fence 26) and although he could easily have put the horse to the fence a second time he did not do so. After LAMPAS retired Vinklarek had to wait five years before he could have another go and in 1988 he returned on PARADA. They fell.....at the Taxis (fall number six) and for once Vinklarek was not able to remount as the horse was too quick for him and sped off riderless. In 1989 he rode GREWOTTE. He should not have been riding as he was wearing a neck protector having injured his back earlier in the season. After GREWOTTE blundered at both the second and third fences Vinklarek wisely pulled the horse up not wishing to risk an inevitable seventh fall at the big ditch. Undeterred he returned with GREWOTTE in 1990 and to the amazement of many he cleared the Taxis with his horse for the very first time. GREWOTTE was jumping much better than on his debut until the final water when, still in contention they came down having appeared to have struck the take off side of the fence. As usual Vinklarek was quick on his feet and despite GREWOTTE slipping on his reins and losing his footing as he got up he was able to remount to finish tenth of eleven finishers. Twelve months later his mount was PAUZA and fall number seven at the Taxis. Sadly whilst Vinklarek was as usual quick on his feet, the unfortunate animal had broken his neck and Vinklarek cast a forlorn figure as he stood over his dead partner. Missing 1992 Vinklarek managed to get his 1993 partner UNISONO passed fit to race by the new strict vetinary panel but it was perhaps inevitable that in a race where six of the nine runners were floored by the Taxis that Vinklarek would be one of them. Fall number eight. No surprise that they were the only pair to remount but they did not get very far, a refusal at the sixth ended Vinklareks challenge this year, a pity as with RIGOLETTO, finishing alone they may have been in with a chance of some prize money. After modifications Vinklarek spoilt his record as he started to get round, completing the course, sixth on UNISONO in 1994 and sixth on the maiden GARET who even had the audacity of leading the field at the third last hurdle before weakening. In between though he did fall at the Taxis again (fall number nine)  in 1995 and once again he remounted. However, by now the rules had changed, remounting was banned and UNISONO and Vinklarek were disqualified. 1997 was Vinkalerks last Velka although he continued to combine training with race riding until 1999 when he rode his last race at the now defunct course at Mirosov. He still trains but has not yet saddled a Velka runner.

16 - Poor Eskadra - most remounts (and she still didn`t get round)

Remounting is a dirty word these days. It is not even allowed in the UK any more. Prior to 1993, however remounting was the done thing and there was no shame in doing so, especially if you were from the Soviet Union. From the early fifties all Soviet runners competed with elastic attached to their reins so if they fell they had a better chance of remounting. The tactic clearly paid off as between 1956 and 1967 they won the race eight times and three of their winners fell en-route to victory. I had considered including the many Soviet runners in this list because having watched the Velkas of the eighties it is amazing how  their poor horses were ridden almost into the ground by their foolhardy riders (who were probably threatened with the labour camps back home if they didn`t follow their orders to "keep remounting at all costs"). Then I realized that the Soviets were not really that popular in Czechoslovakia at the time so I decided to leave out the likes of Messrs Kasajev, Tokov and Chludejev and lets not forget Erot, Vek, Nabor, Diaf, Slitok and a host of other poor beasts that probably ended up as dog meat somewhere in down-town Rostov. However, having trawled through the Velka archive I can tell you that the record for remounting actually goes to a Czech horse called Depota, who in 1977 fell an incredible six times before completing. Unfortunately for his rider Mr Vit they took so long to finish that they were disqualified so it was all for nothing. However, when one looks at the Velkas of the eighties it is amazing how excited the riders of unplaced horses got as they completed the course. To finish the Velka no matter how many times you had to remount was clearly a great honour. So, to ESKADRA, a six year old mare who lined up in VALENCIO`s Velka of 1986. Slowly away and amongst the backmarkers she was one of four fallers at the Taxis. She didn`t actually fall but landed too steeply and her rider M.Zajicek slid off. ESKADRA nearly got away too, poor thing but, Zajicek was quick-witted, he clung to the reins and the horse could not escape. Remounted the pair set off in vain pursuit of the main field. Some way behind the others she fell again at fence 10A...and remounted again. Czech TV rarely filmed backmarkers but having not seen ESKADRA since the Taxis, cameras showed her stopped at the second water. Mr Zajicek is seen encouraging his mount to consent to jump into the water. Somehow they cleared the fence and then went onto the big water where they fell again. By now VALENCIO was in the process of becoming the easiest winner of the decade and as he was filmed approaching the second last hurdle the cameras caught ESKADRA stuck at the second part of the In and Out (she had already refused the first part). The In and Out are fences 20 & 21. ESKADRA was by now nine fences behind the leader ! Thankfully despite trying his hardest (he didn`t appear to be using his whip) Zajicek finally called it a day. Three falls and three refusals. You wouldn`t get away with it today. ESKADRA did not contest the Velka again.


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