Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

   Home      Pardubicka 2002
Charlie is my darling!    
112th Velka Pardubicka, Pardubice 13 October 2002
It was our fifth visit to Prague and third expedition to Pardubice for the Velka Pardubicka. This year we planned to stay overnight in Pardubice, a logical step as the eight-race card started at an uncomfortable 11.20am on Sunday morning!
We arrived in Prague courtesy of a cheap Go! flight. Increased competition from Czech Airlines from November 2002 (via Stansted) will see even more downward pressure on prices. Anyway £60 return was pretty cool.  
We had a couple of days in Prague to enjoy the culture and the beer. The centre of Prague was functioning pretty well considering the devastating damage caused by the summer floods. Most of the Metro is out of action until early 2003 so the roads – and in particular the trams – were much busier. Tourist numbers were definitely down. The weather was cold and wet in complete contrast to last year.
One of our favourite haunts, a basement bar called U Krale Jiriho (The King George) had closed because of flood damage. Plenty of other worthy establishments of course including our old favourite the Radegast Pivnice near Namesti Republiky, which is open until 00.30 every night serving both light and dark Radegast beers.
We had waited until reaching Prague to book our one night stay in Pardubice . As you’d expect the hotels are significantly cheaper. 
We booked the Hotel Labe, which turned out to be a very unattractive twelve storey block. The plan was not to checkout of our Prague hotel but merely to take an overnight bag to Pardubice. It was the first time I had stayed in two hotels at once.
We took the Kosice inter-city express to Pardubice. Always travel First Class, as it will only cost you about £5 return. We took a cab to the concrete Labe and explored the town that Saturday afternoon. Some interesting beers were consumed – particularly Rychtar and Rebel both brewed locally. One of the bars advertised Time Warp and Semtex, not beers but some sort of energy cocktails which we decided to swerve. 
Later that evening we hit the old square to look for a restaurant. The prices were considerably cheaper than Prague, which in itself is not expensive. Our criterion was to choose a place with main courses costing more than 100 crowns! (i.e. about £2). We decided on La Boheme. Black caviar on toast to start followed by king prawns, crab salads and oysters. Pancakes to finish. All washed down with Czech beers. Thirty or so members of the “Blin” syndicate were dining here. They obviously appreciated the value too.                                          
Next morning after a very average breakfast it was off to the racecourse. We’d got our act together this year by ordering grandstand tickets via the web. Having read previous Czech racing articles on my web site, a chap called Ross McDonnell had e-mailed me from Poland. Anyway to cut a long story short he explained to me how to apply for advance tickets. Basically you e-mail the Pardubice racecourse site – see http://www.pardubice-racecourse.cz/deffra.asp?l=1- with your exact requirements. Specify the seats/stand you want (all displayed on the site together with the prices) and ask for an invoice to be sent to your home address in GB pounds. Bear in mind that the minimum order is for two seats. When you receive the invoice you then send off your cheque and they post you the tickets. The whole process takes about 4-5 weeks so apply early to avoid disappointment!
You won’t believe this but on taking our seats in the stand we discovered that the chap sitting next to us was Ross! He used to write for the Sporting Life in Ireland and had the low down on a lot of the jumping form which was to help us that afternoon.
There are two betting options at the track – the tote, Toto CZ and Turf Praha bookmakers, a fixed odds option. The latter bets to a ridiculous percentage but at least provides an alternative to the tote. The fixed odds set up was screen based on a computer system that looked like something out of the 80s. The sort of PCs you’d encounter in a skip outside your house. Anyway it all seemed to function OK. Details of these systems and the bets available can be found at:
Interestingly Ross liked the chance of Merchants Friend in the 4th. An ex-Irish hurdler that goes well in the soft. It was showing 8/1 in the early Turf Praha list but there were also two 6/4 shots in the race and an over-round approaching 200% which prevented us from steaming in! Richard – who would be writing the Racing Post report on the big race – had heard that the hurdler was fancied. It was trained by Charlie Mann who had Celibate running later and of course was the 1995 Pardubicka hero with It’s a Snip.
We awaited the first tote shows before getting involved with Merchants Friend. This was the first mistake because it opened around 6/4 on the nanny and there was a British stampede to take a fixed price! Turf Praha was showing 7/1 initially. I managed to get some 6s before the screens displayed BLOK! BLOK! against the selection. This was the message while a price was being amended. Some Brits thought it was going to be “no offers” but betting resumed at 4/1 shortly afterwards and the plunge continued. It started around 11/8.
When it came to the actual race, this turned out to be one of the easiest winners I’ve ever backed. Under a great ride from Fehily he hit the front about three out and won by about two hundred yards easing down. Definitely one worth following in the mud. The Brits were pretty ecstatic. Cheers for Charlie!
Not long after this triumph Charlie withdrew Celibate from the Pardubicka because of the worsening ground. This left no British-trained interest in the race as Paddy’s Return had already been withdrawn.
We were pretty hungry by now and went in search of some food other than the ubiquitous sausage. Seeing a restaurant sign on the ground floor of the largest grandstand we piled in. The security was of airport proportions with scanners for all your belongings. But first we had to try and blag a coloured piece of paper to wrap around a wrist. Having acquired yellow wrist bands we ascended the stairs. It suddenly dawned on us that the colour of your band determined which hospitality area you were entitled to enter. We kept getting knock backs. We swerved the Horse Racing Abroad area for fear of being recognised and eventually found our way into a party on the 6th floor. We eat and drank for about twenty minutes before making a discreet exit. Thank you Citibank!
It was time to tackle the Pardubicka and we supported a number of outsiders to small stakes on the tote, using the fixed odds as a betting guide. We made our way back to our seats with only a few minutes to the off. We had four seats between three of us. A very obese German was occupying at least two of them. The words sun beds and beach towels sprang to mind. He refused to move until I threatened to call security and at that point he reluctantly sloped off.
Having a seat in the stand for the first time gave a much better perspective of the race and all thanks to Ross for the steer. In retrospect the winner Maskul wasn’t too difficult to find. It was ridden by top German pilot Peter Gehm, victorious on Chalco last year, who had a good choice of rides this time around. It wasn’t much of a price so we didn’t mind missing out. Blin was tailed off and then pulled up so the syndicate were out of luck too.
In the Press Room while correspondents from around the world electronically dispatched their stories, Richard was composing his race report on his notepad. No not an IBM laptop but the paper version! Later his mobile packed up as he was phoning through his musings to the Racing Post. Fat Owl, who didn’t look the slightest bit fat to me, came to the rescue with an immediate phone loan.
Richard had hit his deadline and it was back to Prague for celebratory drinks before heading home. 
November 2002