Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

   Home      Pardubicka 2000


Having visited Prague twice before we were very familiar with the city and its hotels. On the last occasion we had a good deal at the Hilton - the hotel has all the facilities, tennis courts, casino and so on but it's twenty minutes' walk to the centre. Step into the picture the Hotel Salvator, Czech owned, centrally located and with the attraction of a sports bar in the basement. Betting service provided with full coverage of racing courtesy of the Racing Channel. It's peculiar watching Plumpton in the middle of Prague.

Although near the centre, our hotel was not surrounded by tourist attractions and we managed to find a real locals' bar nearby for our first meal. Czech food can be a little disappointing with a great emphasis still on meat and dumplings. This place was a revelation, however, and we sat down to plates of caviar served on ice with salad for just a couple of quid!

One of the great attractions of Prague is, of course, the Pilsner beer. Not only is it the finest draught lager you can buy it's also extremely cheap. A half litre will set you back between thirty and forty pence. So on Friday evening we signed up for one of the many walking tours, this one designed to explain the brewing history of the city.

These events are very interesting not least to see how strangers interact as increasing amounts of beer are consumed. Our party included people from Texas, Melbourne and Camden. We visited two brewery pubs. The newest - Novomestsky - whose beers are intentionally cloudy. In contrast the second - U Fleku - is the oldest brew pub in the world dating from 1499. The choice of beer is not difficult, there is only one served, the Flekovsky dark 13.

On Saturday we did think about going out to Pardubice for the St Leger meeting. As the racecourse is about a hundred miles away we decided to stay in town and sample some more beers. We were not too wrecked to show up at the Opera House in the evening to take in some culture - Mozart Requiem, performed by the Prague Radio Orchestra.

Sunday was big race day and we had the logistics of getting to Pardubice on public transport ahead of us. A good start as we managed to locate the right station. The intercity to Warsaw looked the best bet - first stop Pardubice. It was about £4 for a first class return ticket. We met a friend Richard on the platform - he had travelled independently to Prague and would be covering the race for the Racing Post. The carriages were like the old British Railways, with three opposite three and the sliding glass door. At Pardubice we eventually worked out the bus timetables and were dropped within walking distance of the track. Two notes to get in and two notes for an impressive full colour programme. We got there at twelve noon thinking we would be in plenty of time for the first race. The eleven race card actually got underway at 11.30am. Shades of the Breeders' Cup.

There were long queues for everything, food, drink, toilets, betting. A very pleasant atmosphere though, lots of families on a day out. Plenty of interest in the horses too. The track seemed to me like a huge Fontwell, as the runners continually criss-crossed in front of the stands to enthusiastic applause. Also something I'd never seen in jump racing before - they quite often choose to jump a fence on the way down to the start!

It was impossible to place a bet. Try as we did we could not find a queue shorter than the thick end of half an hour. As we wouldn't know what we were doing it was undoubtedly no bad thing. However it was disappointing not to be able to bet on the feature race - the 110th Velka Pardubicka, the eleventh and final event on the card. We tried calling Victor & Ladbrokes in Gibraltar on our mobiles, but the network didn't seem to function outside Prague.
As the Pardubicka got underway they were still twenty deep at the tote queues. Peruan, the odds on favourite, was content to sit out the back and avoid all the trouble for the first circuit and a half. He then moved steadily to the front, before taking a breather approaching the final turn. He came storming through on the run-in to tumultuous applause, recording a third consecutive victory. Look out for the lightly raced Peruan in the Sporting Index Chase at Cheltenham on November 10th.

Travelling back to Prague was a piece of cake compared to the outward journey. It was out on the town Sunday night and the discovery of more interesting beers and bars.                                                             

After much consideration (and many pints) here are my top recommendations:

For a dark beer: the Radegast dark 10(3.6) - Malty, caramel taste. To sample it, try the Radegast Pivnice near Namesti Republiky.
For a pale beer: a great discovery - Platan. Very light golden hoppy taste. The best place for Platan is U Krale Jiriho (The King George). This is a cellar bar below the James Joyce Irish theme bar, near the Charles Bridge. A great choice of music too, with the highlight for us Leonard Cohen - they played the whole of the first album without interruption. Three half litres of Platan cost less than 50 Crowns (<£1.00). It's amazing how many you can drink during fifty minutes of Leonard!

Anyone who enjoys steeple chasing and the odd pint could do worse than contemplate a visit to the Czech Republic in October 2001…..

October 2000