Monday, June 24, 2024

Czech Grand National makes its European cousins look like a stroll in the park – as I learnt to my cost

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In the communist era the Velka was the race in which, as a bonus for completing the course, Russian jockeys went straight to the head of the queue for a Lada – a good enough reason, some might have supposed, for a soft unseating at the first.

But the consequence of this incentive was that they would tie the reins round their wrists so that when the inevitable fall came the horse would not disappear and they could remount. If a horse did disappear, well, so did the jockey.

I rode in three Velkas, all on Czech horses, before I saw the light or, to be more precise, the blue flashing light. In that revelatory moment, as the jockey beside me received a life-saving heart massage, I realised I was a long way from home and weekends in Pardubice were not doing my nerves any good at all.

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