Vana eyes Crystal Cup

Josef Vana appears to be leaving nothing to chance as he looks to land the inaugural Crystal Cup, writes our leading Czech correspondent Robin Healey.

Vana's back-to-back victories on Tiumen - riding and training - in the Velka Pardubicka (Pardubice) and Lutin des Bordes' success in the Preis der Nationen (Merano) has moved Vana to the top of the Crystal Cup standings.

There are just two races remaining of the 10-race series, at Compiegne in November, then at Cheltenham the following month.

Vana told "I'd like to take some horses to Cheltenham for the Crystal Cup race in December. But it is a question of having horses available six weeks after the end of our season.

"Lutin des Bordes won the Crystal Cup race at Merano, but he has had a long season. Lirain was sixth in the Velka Pardubicka and ran well - he is the most likely. Sixteen perhaps, though I don't think so, she would not like the long journey.

"We'll see in a few weeks. I hope to be there. No, I'm not going to ride at Cheltenham. Let the youngsters have their chance."

Tiumen's back-to-back success in the Velka Pardubicka was Vana's seventh as a jockey and eighth as a trainer, but Vana has ruled out a trip to Prestbury Park for the nine-year-old.

Vana stated: "No, the owner does not agree. Tiumen is being aimed at the Velka Pardubicka in 2011.''

Vana’s route into horse racing was not straight-forward, he was expelled from the apprentices’ school for fighting – for the honour of a lady, he claims. He then took jobs as a construction worker and in mountain rescue – he is an expert skier.

During his military service he took up bodybuilding and at one time weighed as much 80kg. He was 28 before he returned to horse racing and started riding as an amateur. His first ride in the Velka Pardubicka was on Paramon (in 1985), on which he finished second, just a couple of weeks before his 33rd birthday!

However, Vana soon enjoyed the first of his four Velka Pardubicka wins on Zeleznik (when he remounted and won in 1991). Vana said: "Zeleznik was the first, and we won four times together. But every win, as a jockey and as a trainer is very special."

Since then he has re-written the Velka Pardubicka records, both as a jockey and as a trainer, though he is not yet the oldest rider to have won the race - that honour goes to Vladimir Hejmovsky, who was 59 when he won on Salvator in 1951.

Vana is also famed for the major injuries he has suffered - the most serious was at Baden Baden in 1996, when he was clinically dead for 15 minutes after a fall. Vana explained: "I lost three quarters of one lung and some ribs on my right side. I am only here thanks to the racecourse paramedics."

The day after leaving hospital he rode a horse, then less than 10 weeks after the accident he rode in a race, and in October he rode in the Velka Pardubicka.

His leg injuries prevent him running in his training regime, but he keeps fit by riding horses, cycling, swimming and, in winter, by skiing.

Vana continued: "Maybe I won't ride again. It depends on my health. It's no joke trying to get the old joints to function a bit longer.

"Older people know what I'm talking about. I should have had a knee operation last year. It has started hurting and I ride with it bandaged up. A horse like Tiumen jumps so smoothly that I can manage. But what if there's a mistake and I need to put more weight on it. If I were to lose a race because of that it would be annoying."

Vana has long been the leading trainer in the Czech Republic, achieving success on the flat as well as over fences. He races his horses all over central Europe. Nowadays the main target abroad is Italy, but he was also once champion jumps trainer in Germany.

An engaging, lively and sociable character, Vana has been sought out to enter local and national politics, and has considered both very seriously, though it is hard to imagine him giving up racehorses for the less fascinating company of politicians.

He has been deputy mayor of Chyse, which lies to the left of the road from Prague to Karlovy Vary, for the period up to mid October 2010, and there can be little doubt that he will be re-elected to the post.

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