Czech rider Vaclav Stanek makes big strides in Spruce Meadows Summer Series

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Czechia recently won the 2024 IIHF world hockey championship. That is a game the country is awfully good at.

Show jumping, maybe not quite so proficient. But perhaps Vaclav Stanek will be the one to put his country on that sport’s map.

During the first week of the Spruce Meadows Summer Series, at the Continental tournament, Stanek had a ground-breaking victory in the Duncan Ross Grand Prix. He was the first Czech rider to win a five-star competition in the venue’s 49-year history … or, in fact, any grand prix anywhere in the world.

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“It means so much to me because I was watching this show from when I was a little kid,” related Stanek, who coming in sat at 1,813 on the FEI world rider rankings. “It’s one of the best shows in the world. It’s always a dream to ride here but I was never sure I could. So to come here and win a grand prix, it was a dream come true. I still can’t believe it happened.

“It’s really big for our country and I was happy to do it here.”

Riding the 14-year-old Dutch warmblood Quintin, Stanek defeated a handful of seasoned riders in the jump-off, the likes of Ireland’s Conor Swail and Britain’s Matthew Sampson. The odds, to be honest, were not in his favour.

“I focus on myself,” the 29-year-old Stanek said. “Try to do what the horse is capable of. Thinking about other people and what they do and how many grand prix they’ve won … doesn’t help you at all.”

Vaclav Stanek
Vaclav Stanek rides Quintin to victory in the Duncan Ross Grand Prix during the Continental tournament at Spruce Meadows on Sunday, June 9, 2024. Photo by Spruce Meadows Media /Mike Sturk

This isn’t Stanek’s first visit to the Meadows. He was here two years ago, as a groom for Irishman Jordan Coyle. It was then that the seeds were planted.

“I just came as a helping hand,” he explained. “I was happy to even see it two years ago. When I had a chance, I walked all the big courses, watching the riders and learning from them, how many strides they do and learning from their mistakes. I was hoping I’d have a chance to do it sometime and I did and it worked well.”

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Stanek is now based at Ariel Grange’s Lothlorien Stables outside of Toronto, working with Jordan’s brother, Daniel Coyle — the 12th-ranked rider in the world.

Stanek believes the sport is growing in his native country, what with a team at the Tokyo Olympics and a few riders competing perennially at world championships. But his exploits will not have gone unnoticed.

As a child, he played pond hockey, did canoeing for many years, tried soccer and basketball.

“But then I started with horses and the horses took over. From 13 years old, it was horses only,” he smiled.

Stanek’s strong riding has continued into this week’s National. On Thursday, in the 1.40m Mercer Cup, he and Jameson — a horse he started riding a year and a half ago — were third in a jump-off, once again against many of the world’s finest. In the one class in the International Ring, the Recon Metal Cup, Stanek and Quintin finished with 10 faults, with a couple of fences going down on the last line after what he called a ‘rider’s mistake’.

The winner of the 1.55m class was Mexico’s Patricio Pasquel and Chakkalou PS. The pair was the best of a 12-horse jump-off round, braving the shortened course in a crazy time of 40.26.

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That posting was just faster than John Perez Bohm of Columbia and Gigi-Carmen’s 40.69, which in turn was quicker than Britain’s Sameh El Dahan and WKD Aimez Moi in 40.98.

“It was a fast jump-off,” Pasquel, a frequent winner at the facility, agreed. “I didn’t get to see. But when I saw that John was winning, I said, I know he’s pretty fast with the mare. And I said, you know, do your plan. I didn’t go crazy fast. I just took off straights wherever I could and it was good enough for me to win.”

The victory goes a long way in preparing for the weekend’s RBC grand prix, an event Pasquel won in 2017 astride the now-retired Babel.

“Today I didn’t want to open him very much because we have the grand prix on Saturday and I think the horse has a great momentum,” the 52-year-old noted. “Last week was a very good practice week for me.”

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