This Sunday, the 103rd (71st on Służewiec) Great Warsaw Race!
What the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is for Paris, the Great Warsaw Race is for the Polish capital and its residents. A day of great excitement, an event which often stays in your memory longer than the Derby. Even those who visit the racetrack only infrequently cannot fight the magnetism of this race. In the popular 1980s TV series Jan Serce one of the main characters claimed that the most important dates in the life of a true Warsaw inhabitant were: their birthday, the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and the day of the Great Warsaw Race.
The Great Warsaw Race was established in 1895 as the highest subsidised Polish race. The first winner was Aschabad, son of Ruler, the incredible racer and, later, breeder, the first Polish winner of the All-Russian Derby in Moscow in 1887.
From the very beginning, the Great Warsaw Race, as the main race of the autumn season, enjoyed immense prestige among horse breeders and owners. In time it became very popular with residents of the capital. It still enjoys this popularity today.
This year’s Great Warsaw Race will be the 103rd in history and the 71st on Służewiec (the first took place in 1946). Since1949, the distance is 2,600 metres.
The largest number of victories – 10 – went to horses trained by Andrzej Walicki: Daglezja (1971), Kasjan (1974), Księżyc (1986), Kesar (1989), Kliwia (1991, 1992), San Luis (2004, 2005), Patronus (2013), and Greek Sphere (2014). Stanisław Molenda trained seven winners and, among jockeys, the late Jerzy Jednaszewski (1920–2009) triumphed a total of eight times. So far, the race was only once in its history won by a female jockey – the late Katarzyna Szymczuk (1972–2011) riding Wolarz (1995).
During the first three seasons of the 21st century, the following mares triumphed: Dżamajka (2000), Kombinacja (2001), and Tulipa (2003). The first two did this in a single season, winning the Derby, Oaks and St. Leger. The next mare to win was Greek Sphere in 2014.
The Służewiec 2,600 metre record – 2’40.3 – was set in the Great Warsaw Race in 2011 by its phenomenal three-time winner, Intens.
The first horse from a private stable to win the Great Warsaw Race was Bella Donna (1996), bred and owned by Grzegorz Kaczmarek. In the following season, the winner was Zagara, of the same breed and ownership. The subsequent winners were: Dancer Life (bred and owned by Barbara and Marian Pokrywka, 2002), Night Express (Adam Milewski, 2006), Merlini (Stanisław Guła, 2008), Hipoliner (Damis, 2009), Dancing Moon (Barbara and Marian Pokrywka, 2010), Intens (Roman Piwko, 2011), and Patronus (Andrzej Zieliński, owned by Millennium Stud, 2013).
Many wonderful horses won the Great Warsaw Race. But the only ones to have the double win were: Turysta from Italy (1947–1948), Demona from Moszna (1964–1965), Kliwia from Kraśnik (1991–1992), Erotyk, a stallion from Golejewko (1968–1969), and St. Luis from Widzew (2004–2005). It is highly probable that this Sunday they will be joined by last year’s winner, the phenomenal Va Bank. Born in an Irish stud and trained by Maciej Janikowski, Va Bank has been unbeaten already in 12 races. Currently, no horse racing anywhere in the world holds such a record!
After a great victory in his first foreign performance on 27 August in Baden-Baden G3 race, in which he defeated the leading German horses, the undefeated Va Bank has been called the “Polish Frankel” not only in Germany. Let us remind you that Fankel was a British phenomenon that went down in history (he ended his racing career in 2012) having been unbeaten in 14 races!
Va Bank had three owners until his appearance in Baden-Baden: Janusz Piotr Zienkiewicz, B. Abdrakhmanov from Kazakhstan, and trainer Maciej Janikowski. Directly after the German success, the renowned racing consortium Team Valor International, managed by Barry Irwin, concluded a transaction to purchase half of the shares in Va Bank.
The reasons for this decision were discussed by Barry Irwin in an interview with Polish Turf Magazine:
“I have always said that a good horse can win a race from any position. And when a horse has not been beaten, no one can guess the limit of his capabilities. This is an exceptional horse with remarkable gears and, most importantly, an extraordinary will to fight.
My wife, Kathleen, pointed him out to me. She observes horse races in many regions of Europe. We had already tried to buy this horse after his last win in Poland, but to no avail. After Va Bank’s win in Baden-Baden, we returned to this idea and this time we were successful.”
Barry Irwin will be unable to attend the Great Warsaw Race due to pre-planned meetings after the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which is also held next Sunday. Most likely, however, another representative of Team Valor International will be present.
Va Bank’s rivals
During his second appearance in the Great Warsaw Race, Va Bank will have five rivals and one helper (Adanero).
Va Bank (60 kg) will meet the following three-year-olds for the first time: Derby-winner, Caccini, and Oaks winner, Iron Belle. Due to their age, they will carry a weight which is lower than that of Va Bank by 5kg and 7 kg, respectively. On a very flexible track, this difference may be to the advantage of younger horses.
Regarding the remaining three four-year-olds, Va Bank has easily won five times against Tantal and twice against Neverly. It will be the second time he meets the mare Height of Beauty, who will be racing from the position of an outsider (she has won only group races so far).
A total of 8 races starts at 12.30 in the morning. In addition to the Great Warsaw Race, three races are worth mentioning: Award Mosznej (2:15 pm), Prize Cardei of 105th anniversary of Sports Club Polonia Warsaw(1:00 pm) and the Award of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development(2:45 pm)
A B-zone ticked on a Derby day costs 12 PLN. Tickets available at eventim.pl. Children below 13 enter the racecourse for free.
The best way to get to Służewiec is to travel by car (entrance from Puławska 266). Public transport may be used as well, the 300 line bus operating on race days between Wilanowska Station of the subway system and the Służewiec Racecourse every 15 minutes is particularly convenient.