One in a Million Kind of Horse

Sometimes a free horse defies expectations. “Green Gratto is just a superhorse.” Delivery truck driver, Gaston Grant, says his horse, Green Gratto, changed his life forever. What a great story!


Move over Aintree, The Velká Pardubická is now the Toughest Steeplechase

Taxis Ditch
The most difficult jump on the course is Taxis Ditch. Riders are not allowed to practice the jump and the only race in which it is featured is the Velká.

While the Aintree Grand National is one of the best known steeplechase races in the world, the title of the toughest race now goes to the Velká Pardubická  (the Grand Pardubice), a cross country steeplechase that has been run in Pardubice, Czech Republic since 1874. It takes place every year on the second Sunday in October. The length of the steeplechase is 4.25 miles (6.9 km), and horses must negotiate 31 jumps.

Velká Pardubická course
Look at this course! It’s hard to imagine how long it would take to memorize the route.

What makes the Velká Pardubická particularly difficult is that it is a combination between cross country and steeplechase. This is not a groomed track. It goes through all kinds of terrain. It is the only steeplechase in the world that is partially run over plowed fields (initially, half the race was over this kind of footing but that has been reduced as it’s so taxing), and when they are wet like they were today, that makes the footing deep and mucky. Adding to the difficulty is the course. It twists and turns in a way that makes the track not immediately obvious!

This year’s winner was No Time To Lose, ridden by Jan Kratochvil. No Time to Lose was trained by Josef Vana, who won the race as a jockey eight times.

Photo finish for the Longine’s Breeders Cup Distaff

What a great race pitting the great Beholder against unbeaten 3-year old Songbird. They take it right down to the wire! Try not to look at the caption before you watch the race. Just know that Beholder’s jockey, Gary Stevens, called it a “street fight.”

“It was fun to be part of a battle,” Stevens said. “The show that those two just put on is worth the price of admission for everybody that showed up. This was horse racing at its best.”


Run, Rabbit, Run

There’s been a lot of discussion since the Belmont about the use of a “rabbit” to set the early speed in a race. Of course, it’s nothing new.

The video above shows the great Damascus with — and without — his rabbit, who was named Hedevar in his races against Dr. Fager; a horse that could not be rated and always got lured into chasing the rabbit.

In the 1957 Belmont Stakes, Gallant Man was helped to his eight length victory by Bold Nero, who was entered in the race to tire out Bold Ruler.

Of course, sometimes the rabbit doesn’t get the message. The very first winner of what would become the Triple Crown, Sir Barton, was entered into the 1919 Kentucky Derby as the rabbit for his barnmate Billy Kelly. He won the Derby by five lengths, moved to Pimlico and  won the Preakness four days later, won the Withers ten days later and then the Belmont. Of course, when Sir Barton won those races there was no “official” Triple Crown; he was awarded the honor once the idea had taken hold, several years after his accomplishment.

Ever watch the Palio?

The Palio is a race that has been run continuously since the 1600s. It’s a mix of horse race, roller derby and a street battle. See the rest of this slide show on the New York Daily News website by clicking on the photo.

Every year since 1625 the ancient town of Siena, Italy, has turned its main Piazza into a race course and it’s famous Palio race (named after the Italian word that means “banner” which is the prize given to the winning Contrada of the race). A thick layer of dirt is laid over the cobblestones and ten horses careen around the square three times. More than just a horse race, it’s a competition among 10 of the 17 contrade, or city wards. The race is run on July 2nd and, since 1701, also on August 16.

It’s a treacherous race in many ways. The turns are impossibly tight and steeply canted, the riders are bareback, and unlike “regular” horse races, jockeys are encouraged to interfere with other riders — they can pull or shove at other jockeys, hit other horses with their whips or try to block them. Part of the strategy is for the wards to prevent rival contrade from winning. Unsurprisingly,  jockeys are often unseated. But that doesn’t eliminate the contrade as riderless horses can still win as technically, it is the .

Since all 17 wards can’t send horses to each race, the field is composed of the seven contrade who did not race in that month the previous years. Three more are chosen by draw.

The horses are provided by private owner. The main representatives of the participating contrade choose 10 horses of similar quality and then a lottery is held to determine which horse will run for each ward. Interestingly, only mixed breed horses are eligible.

Today was the second race day of 2013. The winner was Jockey Giovanni Atzeni of the Onda (Wave) ward.

Thundering Hooves! Shire Racing in England

Who says draft horses can’t run? Check out this race — and it’s exciting finish — of Shire horses in England. Certainly the thundering of the hooves coming down to the finish line must have been impressive in person as these horses stood between 17.3 and 18.2 hands and weighed about a ton.