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Unbreakable: The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race By Richard Askwith

Release date: 30th March, 2019
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £16.99
Our Price: £12.99
You Save: £4 (23%)
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Politically and economically, the 1930s were a grim period in human history as the Tectonic plates of ideology clashed, resulting in millions of unnecessary deaths. Given such a background, it might appear peripheral, but rarely has sport been used for political purposes as frequently as it was during the era.

By the late 1930s, Czechoslovakia prepared for German invasion as Hitler’s dreams for the Third Reich appeared increasingly plausible. By October 1937, many Czechs, assuming the worst, turned their attention instead to the Grand Pardubice steeplechase, a highlight of the national sporting calendar. Even this most demanding of races had been dominated Germans and Austrians (seven of the previous nine races had been won by men of either nationality); the home crowd’s only hope was that 1937’s Teutonic contingent would fail to finish.

There was a strong probability of that happening – after all, there had never been a race in which all participants had finished. Czech nationals yearned for a national hero, a domestic victory, to counter Nazi jibes that they were no more than “subhuman Slavs”.

Even the most nationalistic Czech would have given a forty-something lady, Lata Brandisova, no chance of winning. Yes, she was loved for her bravery and riding skill after being a race regular since participating for the first time ten years’ earlier, but win it? It could never happen, despite having finished fifth, fourth, third and second on her beloved mare, Norma.

In 1927, Brandisova overcame deeply ingrained prejudice simply to ride as an amateur. Females were considered far too delicate to take part in a race, never mind a steeplechase. Yet following a twist of fate that saw her returning from an assumed retirement to be reunited with Norma, Brandisova confirmed she would be lining up for the 1937 version of the world’s toughest steeplechase.

What followed was remarkable, a story fit for the silver screen. For a nation desperate to defy German ambition and silence their criticism, Brandisova’s announcement transformed her into a Joan of Arc-like figure.

More than 40,000 people, a record attendance, crammed into Pardubice’s racecourse to witness history. They were not disappointed. Just 10 of the 15 runners finished; it was brutal and sinew-straining with no quarter given, but Lata refused to be intimidated. Keeping Norma away from trouble, she won the race by seven lengths.

This is a truly great story which has the reader rooting for a 41-year-old woman of whom most will have never heard. Do yourself a favour and add it to your library.

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