Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

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CZECH POINTS                 

It was not designed as a racing weekend. The visit to Prague was to be a cultural trip supplemented with a few litres of the excellent local brews. Strangely the wives had refused to go - not enough shopping opportunities the feeble excuse.

I met Adrian at Heathrow for the 7.40 flight on Friday morning. By mid - morning we were at the Hotel President, over dressed for the near 30 degree heat. The hotel situated on the river Vltava just a short walk north of the centre.

I won't bore you with all the cultural stuff, because if you travel to this fascinating city your guide book will point you in the right direction. I will, however, mention a few non - racing points, that won't necessarily appear in the guide book. The first is a "Pub Crawl" which is operated by a company called Prague Walks. This takes place away from the tourist areas in a sort of Latin quarter populated by artists and students called the Zizkov district. President Vaclav Havel was said to drink regularly in one of the bars we visited. For a cost of 250 crowns (about £5) you visit 4/5 establishments and get 3 free drinks. A superb way to occupy our first evening and strongly recommended.
Without being too anorakish I will tell you a bit about the beer. As you probably know Pilsner originated at a place called Pilsen which is about 80 kilometres from Prague. There are quite a number of Czech bottled beers on sale in the U.K -Budvar, Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen - but tasting their draught equivalents is as much a contrast as that between bottled and draft Guinness. In the tourist areas you will pay about 70p a 1/2 litre but this will drop to 40p in some of the side streets and more like 20p outside Prague.

It wasn't until Saturday that we thought about racing. We'd often discussed the possibility of going to Pardubice to witness that Czech version of the Grand National. This takes place in October albeit a fair way east of Prague. We were to learn that Prague has its own racetrack, Velke Chuchle, situated about 30 kilometres away. We'd already sussed the excellent public transport system: for £1 you can travel all day anywhere on metro, bus or tram. We set out on Sunday morning taking tube and then bus going south. The ticket system is a trust the punter scenario and no-one ever seemed to pay. If caught without a ticket the fine was only £4, so I suppose as we never saw an inspector it was a fair bet at 4/1 not to buy one! The bus stopped at the racetrack. We were the youngest people getting off -not an encouraging sign. After much confusion over the entrance cost- 60p entrance, same for the programme- we made our way to a huge tatty grandstand. The thirteen race programme was a mixture of trotting and flat racing.

The racecard was indecipherable but interesting because there were various reviews of international racing. For example, Royal Ascot was afforded a two page spread. Witness this caption under one of the photographs "Celeric's Patem Edderym v cilove rovine Gold Cupu"(sic) !

Having realised we would not pick a winner from the racecard, we had a couple of random bets to find out how it all worked. The betting screens were not what they seemed. Firstly, we noticed the betting percentages were rather high- between 140-150% per race, but the real surprise came when a bet was placed. It wasn't a tote system - you actually secured the price at the time of acceptance.   

The example ticket (enclosed) shows how it works :- 50 crowns at 4/1 (i.e. 5.00) tax paid (5%) total stake 52.50, potential return, indicated on the ticket, 250.00 crowns. If you were lucky enough to win you had to wait at least 45 minutes to be paid out. Also, as every ticket was potentially unique and no bar code readers were in evidence, the operator was obliged to enter the 15 digit serial number to confirm your payout. Not very user friendly!

Some of the horses running were vaguely familiar - Near Dancer (IRE), Flighty (GB), Ame Indienne (FR) and Markota (IRE). All rang distant bells. After three/four races the track began to fill out with the locals. Unlike us they were dressed suitably for the continuing hot weather. I think it's fair to say that noone spoke a word of English at the track and ordering something to eat and drink as well as placing a bet was not without its difficulties. One food stall had translated its offerings into four languages, including English, but we still didn't know what they were selling!

In the end we stayed for about seven/eight races having more random bets on the quasi tote system without much success (not surprisingly). However, the local brew which is called "Velkopopovicky " was unbelievably good - 40p a half litre at the track but only 18p back at the bus station.

We spent Sunday evening consuming more beers in the centre of Prague, enjoying the magical surroundings and beautiful weather.
With sterling purchasing 50 or more crowns to the pound a trip to the 107th Grand Pardubice on October 12th is looking increasingly like a good bet.....

 JUNE 1997                                              

Anorak footnote.
Our three favourite beers were as follows:
1. Velke Popovice Kozel Pale 12(5) Lemony colour.
2. Budvar 12(5) Copper coloured.
3. Regent Dark 12 (4.2) Coal Black. Liquorice aroma.