TOM GARNER paid a flying visit to Prague over the weekend to book his place for the infamous Grand Pardubice Steeplechase on the second Sunday in October.
Garner, 23, is a National Hunt jockey based in Barnsley on the outskirts of Cirencester, and the Pardubice is the Czech Republic’s equivalent of the Grand National – only tougher.
They race over 4m2f and 31 obstacles but there the similarities end. Whereas the Aintree obstacles are generally uniform, Garner will face a varied assortment of fences over the Pardubice course including Irish banks and natural hedges, while a quarter of the race is run over ploughed fields.
And then there is the Taxis Ditch which has been little changed since the first running in 1874. Basically it is a 5ft hedge, but it has the sort of huge drop and 13ft ditch on the landing side which has long since been done away with at Aintree.
Twenty seven horses have lost their lives at the Taxis in the history of the race.
No British rider has won the Pardubice since Charlie Mann, now a trainer in Lambourn, triumphed aboard It’s A Snip in 1995.
But Garner is hopeful of a bold effort from his locally-trained mare Cantridara.
“Czech horses can only get in the race by finishing in one of four qualifiers and my mount was seventh on Sunday,” said Tom.
“She was upsides the impressive winner Orphee Des Blins (easy winner of the last two runnings of the Pardubice itself) until four fences from home, from which point she simply got tired because she was not race fit.
“I am going back to ride her in another trial over the course on June 28 and I can see her finishing there or thereabouts in the big one as she jumps really well.”
Garner’s profile as a jockey is as high as it has ever been and he is taking advantage of the injury suffered by Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell and effectively riding as No.1 jockey for his boss Oliver Sherwood.
He is also in demand around Europe and flew on from Prague to Jersey where he had three placed rides on Monday.
It was on a riding engagement to Bratislava last year that he met Cantridara’s trainer Josef Papousek and the Pardubice plan was formed.
Garner has yet to be acquainted with the infamous Taxis, which was not jumped in the qualifier, but he has received some advice from Liam Treadwell, the 2009 Grand National winner on Mon Mome, who rode in the Pardubice last term.
“Liam simply said ‘look after yourself’," said Tom. "They take no prisoners over there and he told me the local riders are often more brave than they are talented.”
With the jumping season being relatively quiet through the summer Garner will keep his eye in thanks to a two-month job with top French Guillaume Macaire at whose yard he will be expected to school five or six horses a day.