A large field of twenty two have been declared for the 128th running of the Velka Pardubicka Steeplechase. As far as the runners are concerned it is an all Czech affair. There were yet again no British entries and the one Irishman is not making the long trip. A sign perhaps that the Anglo-Irish love affair with the Velka has come to an end. Of more note is that the sole French entrant Urgent de Gregaine also stays at home. Last years runner up and former Cheltenham winner would have had an outstanding chance and probably would have been my selection so his absence throws things wide open
1 000-040 MILERYT (2 wins from 34 starts over jumps) - shown nothing in two years and judging by his performance in the August qualifier when he finished almost a furlong behind he has aboslutely no right to line up in a race of this calibre. Rider Jan Mach is an amateur who has been riding for many years. He also trains the horse and is making his Velka debut.
2 000p-p00 NIKAS (6/47) (4 course wins) - finished first past the post in 2015 but was diqualified for failing a dope test. This will be a record equalling seventh attempt at the Velka but he is thirteen now and has shown nothing since that Velka "win" - no chance whatsoever. Andrew Glassonbury is one of four UK & Irish jockeys riding local horses. This is his Velka debut.
3 3/144-41 ZARIF (7/29) (6C) - A fifth Velka for this course specialist from the all powerful Josef Vana stable. He has finished sixth, second, third and fourth in the last four renewals and showed his wellbeing with victory here in August. Another solid performance is expected but I think if we were going to win the Velka he would have done so by now. Multiple Italian champion Raffaele Romano will be having his fifth Velka ride.
4 00/u2-21 HEGNUS (6/23) (4C) - Has been supplemented for the race in the back of his impressive victory here in September. Won the valuable Labe Prize here in 2015 and finished fifth in his one attempt at the Velka two years ago. One for the shortlist. Marek Stromsky will be having his sixteenth ride and has twice finished first past the post only to be disqualified.
5 220-142 THEOPHILOS (4/14) (C) - Velka debutant. Easy winner of the First Of May Chase at Lysa, a race he was winning for the second consecutive year. Placed in two qualifiers subsequently. Very useful and will be one for the short list but it is noted that last year he was aimed at a much shorter race and he is untested at this distance. Young rider Patrick Boekhout is making his Velka debut. He has ridden five winners in the Czech Republic this year.
6 420-000 BRIDGEUR (0/22) - Front runner who will be easy to spot in his blue blinkers. Finished seventh last year. Will be one of the outsiders. Former champion jockey Jaroslav Myska will be having his sixteenth ride - third is the best he has managed and if he is unsuccessful again he will hold the record for the most consecutive losing rides in the race.
7 031/p0-0 VAJGAROS (2/9) - Slovak challenger. Won a race on this card in 2016 but has been lightly raced since then and was a distant sixth in the June qualifier on his only start this year. Dual Grand National jockey Leighton Aspell is a very interesting booking. He rode at the August meeting at Pardubice and has four rides booked earlier on the card. I don't think for a moment that Leighton will become the first jockey to ride the winner of both the National and the Velka.
8 03p0-03 TER MILL (4/27) (4C) - Grey with a low head carriage. This will be his fifth Velka - he has only completed the course once in 2016. No chance. Jan Odlozil is having his third Velka ride. He has ridden ten winners so far this season.
9 3112-p2 TZIGANE DU BERLAIS (3/18) (3C) - Second in the Labe Prize last year and this year flopped in the May qualifier but ran well to finish second in June behind Ange Guardian with several of todays rivals behind him. Booking of Jan Faltejesek (having his twelfth ride in the race) four time winner of the Velka is notable.
10 0/0f0-00 TEMPLAR (3/30) (3C) - Third Velka, found the Taxis too much for him last year. Shown very little for some time now. No chance. Thomas Boyer will be having his sixth ride in the Velka
11 2200-01 STRETTON (3/18) (2C) - Velka debutant. This one has never fallen and won a Cat 2 race at Pardubice in June on his last start. Each way claims. British jockey Thomas Garner has ridden three winners in the UK this season and two in Italy. This will be his second Velka ride.
12 2u1-403 VICODY (4/31) (2C) - Beat Tzigane du Berlais in the Labe Prize last year. Close third behind the same horse and Ange Guardian in the September qualifier. Quietly fancy this one as my outsider. Josef Bartos is the leading Czech rider who has also been champion in Italy and has ridden over 400 winners. This will be his sixteenth Velka winning twice,
13 p/400-f4 KASIM (5/36) (4C) - Another old timer who will be running in his fifth Velka. Fourth in 2013 has been his best placing but he has completed the course each time. A distance behind in fourth place in the August qualifier. No chance of winning but expect another brave performance. This will be Martin Liskas ninth Velka - fifth has been his best placing.
14 334/020 VANDUAL (3/15) (3C) - Lightly raced in recent years and shown nothing in three years. No realistic chance. Lukas Matusky will be having his third ride in the Velka.
15 u4-0u00 RIBELINO (4/27) (3C) - Awarded the 2015 Velka on a technicality but has not run in the race since and has showed very little. No real chance. This will be British jockey James Best's first ride not only in the Velka but in the Czech Republic.
16 224-111 SZTORM (7/27) - Done most of his racing in his native Poland and has shown excellent form at Wroclaw this year going unbeaten in three starts including their premier steeplechase the Wielka Wroclawska. Has shown form in the Czech Republic in 2015 winning the Velka Slusovicka. Only concern is that he has not run at Pardubice since 2013. This is the dark horse of the race. Marcel Novak is currently leading the Czech jockeys championship with fifteen winners.
17 f00-211 ANGE GUARDIAN (9/31) (2C) - Chased home Charme Look in 2016 and fifh in the mud last year. Usually held up. This year has been in excellent form winning the June and September qualifiers. The June performance in my view is the best form of the year so far. Has an excellent chance of making it third time lucky. Jiri Kousek has been riding for years throughout Europe and will be having his eleventh ride. He has finished second and third.
18 3-04u04 DELIGHT MY FIRE (9/29) (2C) - Very fancied for last years race where he finished third. This year has been running in France, Italy and Poland but has not got his head in front. Finished fourth in the September qualifier and I have my doubts. Swedish champion Niklas Loven has been riding more in the Czech Republic these last three seasons and has been rewarded with eighteen wins. This is his third ride.
19 1/221-31 NO TIME TO LOSE (6/19) (3C) - Reigning champion who pipped Urgent de Gregaine in the closing stages in the mud last year. This season was held by Ange Guardian in the May qualifier and turned in a fairly workmanlike performance to win the August qualifier. This is a race that throws up multiple winners and he will be one of the favourites. With regular rider Jan Kratochvil on the sidelines Josef Vana Jnr takes up the reigns. Son of the legendary Josef Vana he has been champion jockey but has never bettered fifth place in ten rides.
20 023/000 ARTISTMONTOT (0/15) - Ex-French trained and still a maiden. Made some of the running in the August qualifier but faded. No chance whatsoever. Ondrej Velek will be having his fifth ride in the Velka.
21 2u1-222 PARETO (4/37) - This will be his fourth Velka and twice his race has ended at the Taxis. However, he is having a good season this year finishing second in all his races in the Czech Republic and Poland and for the first time in his Velka career could be said to have genuine each way prospects. Bulgarian rider Sertash Fehranov currently sits second in the Czech jockeys title and will be having his third ride in the Velka
22 10-00p3 UNIVERSE OF GRACIE (6/58) (6C) - Another Velka regular who will be having his fifth start - twice finished in the frame but is thirteen now and his chances have come and gone. Lukas Sloup will be riding in his third Velka
CONCLUSION : Very much a veterans Velka this year with lots of familiar names but truth be some of these old-timers should really have called it a day by now. Most of these have very little chance but if the going is good and they survive the Taxis and the early tricky fences most should get round and I predict very few fallers this year. Delight My Fire would have a chance on her best form but has not shown it this season, Pareto is having a much better year and could sneak a place, Stretton and Theophilus are newcomers with decent each way chances. Sztorm is very much the dark horse. Hegnus has been supplemented and must be respected. Kasim and Zarif will give their all but their chance has probably come and gone. My outsider is Vicody. As reigning champion No Time To Lose will be favourite. However my selection to make it third time lucky is ANGE GUARDIAN - two qualifier victories and his June qualifier victory is better than anything else I have seen this year. No Time To Lose, Stretton and Zarif to chase him home.