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Often billed as the most dangerous race on earth, it makes the Grand National look like a trot round Hyde Park. It is a steeplechase, which means that as well as the usual fences there are a whole array of other impediments like water ditches and short slopes for the horses to navigate. British and Irish racing has a long connection with the race, with many riders coming over to take part. The interest has tailed off in recent years, and no British rider has won since Partly this is because the race is insanely dangerous for jockeys as well as horses.
The British former jockey Marcus Armytage, now a racing writer and commentator, has said his own moment of clarity, having ridden several times, came as he received treatment next to a colleague who was receiving a heart massage. That is nothing on the all-time champion, the Czech Josef Vana, whose eight victories in the race are less impressive than the fact that he was once declared dead after a fall only to recover and be back in the saddle two months later.
Compared to British races the atmosphere is relaxed, with no dress code or champagne receptions. The course is lined with tall trees, with horse and cart rides taking spectators around. The stands could use some TLC, and and the food is disastrous.
It feels a bit like what I imagine racing in Britain was in about They were as horsey a bunch as you might expect. I asked one woman sitting in front of me whether she rode. It was that kind of day out. More than most other European cities, except possibly Venice, Prague is suffocated with tourists.
Wenceslas Square and the other major tourist attractions are almost unnavigable, such is the crush of people. The city is still reasonably cheap and its central European location means anyone can rock up by road, air or rail. When we finally got to the front, we were directed to another till. If only there was a word for a situation that was similar to those found in Kafka.