Velká Pardubická - Great Pardubice Steeplechase
The oldest and probably the most difficult cross country horse race on the continent has been held since 1874 in Pardubice. Horses and riders must cope with a track 6,900 m long and overcome 31 obstacles, including one of the world's toughest - the Taxis Ditch. Horses are only allowed to jump this once a year, during this steeplechase race. It is held every year on the second Sunday in October.
No other sporting event in Czechia has such a long tradition as the Velká Pardubická (Great Pardubice Steeplechase). To put this in context – when the first match of the Czechoslovak football league was played, the Velká Pardubická had already been running for fifty years!

The name Velká Pardubická is used for the whole of the race weekend. The main event is held on the Sunday, with eight races being run. The last and main race is the actual Velká Pardubická, which usually runs at 4 p.m. The horses take roughly 9–10 minutes to complete the course (the record is 8:56.01). The steeplechase is usually run by 15 to 20 horses.

Fancy walking the course and seeing one of the toughest obstacles in the world – the Taxis Ditch – for yourself? Book a tour of the racecourse in English!

Some snippets from the history of the Velká Pardubická

And how did this legendary steeplechase originate? It all started with hunts. Nobles went in pursuit of deer and boar on horseback and had to cross various natural obstacles as they went. The first race was held in 1836 in Chlumec and thanks to Prince Franz of Liechtenstein, these hunts (known as par force) moved to Pardubice. And with the local landscape being reminiscent of an English park, this style of hunting caught on in Pardubice.

The first racecourse in Pardubice opened in 1856. The first Velká Pardubická was run on 5th November 1874. There were 14 horses that started the race, but only 7 of them reached the finish. The race and its result attracted a great deal of attention in the Czech lands and elsewhere, and so since then (with just a few exceptions - such as during wartime) the Velká Pardubická has been held every year. The racecourse now looks as it did in the first years after the war.

Interesting facts

  • In 1909 not a single horse reached the finish line.

  • In 1920 the race ended without a winner. The only horse that reached the finish was disqualified for exceeding the time limit.

  • In 1994 the depth of the Great Taxis Ditch was reduced from two metres to one. It was too dangerous, basically. What’s more, the Taxis Ditch was originally 5 m long, and was hidden behind a hedge a metre and a half high and the same in length. Nowadays the Taxis Ditch lies behind a fence 150 cm high and 180 cm long. Behind that there’s the 4-metre-long ditch. So, rather than the previous 650 cm, the horses now have to get over an obstacle 580 cm long.