Having spent much of the summer sidelined with a fractured and cracked neck, one might forgive Leighton Aspinall for not choosing this season to make his debut in the Velka Pardubicka. But the jockey is clearly made of sterner stuff and lined up today with 19 others at Pardubice in the Czech Republic for the 128th running of this unique Chase.
Over its 4 miles 2 furlongs and 110 yards, horses have to run on various types of surface, including some ploughed fields, while jockeys negotiate the most eccentrically creative and challenging of obstacles. These include the Irish Bank, which horses have to shimmy up and down, two fences known as Small Gardens, which have to be jumped in frighteningly quick succession and most famous of all the Taxis Ditch. This consists of a 1.5 metre high fence followed by a 4 metre long ditch. It’s not for the faint hearted.
This year’s renewal was won by Tzigane Du Berlais, ridden by Jan Faltejsek, making it his 5th victory in the race – I guess as there’s no other course to compare it to, experience counts for a lot. Although a Czech, Faltejsek is much travelled and will be well known to the British, having been based for a number of years with George Charlton in Northumberland. No British jockey has won the race since Charlie Mann on It’s A Snip in 1995. But coming into the home straight Thomas Garner took the lead and looked like he might triumph on Stretton. He finished third. As for Leighton Aspinall, he fell on the first circuit. I’m sure it will take more than that to put him off returning next year.