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Hoppegarten Racecourse - a history of the German racecourse

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May 17th 1868 was an important day in the history of German horseracing. Prussian King Wilhelm I (the founding of the German Empire and the title Emperor was still eight years away) himself attended the successful opening ceremony of “Hoppegarten” together with his ministers including Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Driving force behind the scenes was the Union-Klub, a Jockey Club founded in 1867 by leading racing enthusiast. The club purchased the over 600 hectares big area outside Berlin for the amount of 296,000 Prussian Taler. The name “Hoppegarten” comes from the fields, “garten” meaning garden, of hops that were replaced by the racecourse.

Very soon trainers from England opened up yards in Hoppegarten and racing was developing at a remarkable rate until the outbreak of World War I. The first trainer coming from England the homeland of horseracing and opening up a yard in Hoppegarten was in 1871 Ch. Hayhohe who was able to win the German Derby five times. Many others followed him including Richard Waugh and Reginald Day (Royal Stud of Graditz) at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. James Cooter, who was training horses for the King of Wuerttemberg and George Arnull, the trainer of the famous Schlenderhan Stud . In 1910 Emperor Wilhelm II declared himself out of pure enthusiasm “protector of the Union-Klub”. This was followed by a huge rebuilding programme that gave Hoppegarten the look it still has today. All wooden stands were replaced by solid steel and stone constructions.

It is today one of the very few racecourses around the world that has completely preserved it’s architecture for more than 80 years. Hoppegarten saw it’s best years without any doubt from 1925 to 1945. Over 1200 horses were in training in the yards surrounding the race track and training centre. The 775 hectare area included six race tracks just for training, 29 kilometres of turf and 16 kilometres of sand tracks. Top horses from England, France and Italy travelled to Germany to race in Hoppegarten. Leading European breeders and owners like Marcel Boussac, HH the Aga Khan and Frederico Tesio were frequent guests in Hoppegarten. In 1945 the Union-Klub went into exile to Cologne after the Soviet Occupational Government had taken away the property from Germany’s oldest Jockey Club for being too aristocratic and therefore being an enemy of the working class. Thanks to many racing enthusiasts in the former German Democratic Republic, the communist eastern part of the divided Germany, Hoppegarten survived almost without a scratch the 45 years that followed. One of the most remarkable racedays in the history of Hoppegarten was on the 31st March 1990.

It was the first German race meeting after reunification. The course was sold out with over 40,000 racing fans from both sides of the iron curtain that vanished six month earlier. For the first time in 30 years race fans, owners, trainers and jockeys from both parts of the country could meet, race and party together again. Throughout the nineties racing blossomed again at the racecourse of the capital. Legendary jockeys such as Lester Piggot, Frankie Dettori, Willie Carson, Steve Cauthen and many more met at the scales in Hoppegarten. All had similar comments: “A fantastic course, better than we had ever imagined”. Unforgettable moments were the visits of HRH Princess Anne, the victories of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum with George Augustus in the Prix Zino Davidoff and Central Park in the Europachampionat, and the first class sprinter Mr Brooks winning the Grosser Preis von Berlin. Though the Union-Klub was now back again in Hoppegarten organising racing it took over eleven more years to regain ownership by a compromise with the government granting the Union-Klub a 99 year lease of the property it purchased in 1874. Hoppegarten today is the stage for three international group races, the GROSSER PREIS VON DEUTSCHLAND (11th July, Gr. II), the GROSSER PREIS VON BERLIN (8th August, Gr. III), the VOLSWAGEN-PREIS DER DEUTSCHEN EINHEIT (3rd October, Gr. III) and a number of listed races.

Today, 14 years after re-unification the fixtures are well embedded into the German racing calendar. Since two years under the chairmanship of Peter Boenisch, a former secretary of state and spokesman of the Kohl Government, the historic racecourse is witnessing a remarkable upturn for horseracing in the German capital. A Milestone in getting racing back into the focus of the public and the media has been last year’s GROSSER PORSCHE PREIS VON DEUTSCHLAND that saw an unforgettable duel between Martillo and Mail The Dessert. Over 25,000 spectators, including chancellor Schroeder and Porsche CEO Wiedeking saw Hoeny-Hof Stud’s Martillo’s win. Hoppegarten today is still an ideal place to train and race horses in the most professional way. The 2350 metres long main racecourse is regarded as the best turf course in Germany. An ideal design with very wide turns and long straights provides fair conditions for all runners. The 550 metres long home straight with the “Anberg”, a slight elevation in the second last furlong, demands very precise timing from the jockeys. The 1400 metres straight sprint turf track is unique in Germany. Inside the main turf course is a hurdle course and the infield is used for jump races.

The stands are providing an un-obscured view of the whole course enabling racegoers to follow every second of the race with their own eyes against the background of over 100 hectares of forest surrounding the grounds from all sides. Already in the twenties of the last century the public gave Hoppegarten the name “Rennbahn im Grünen” meaning “racecourse in the green” or “Parkrennbahn” meaning Park Racecourse for its location in the middle of the green belt surrounding the capital. The Racecourse can be reached by car or train in 25 minutes from the centre of Berlin. Hoppegarten’s own train station is conveniently located only a 5 minute walk away from the main gate. Over a dozen public trainers have their yards nowadays in Hoppegarten using the training centre. Hoppegarten provides them with the biggest training grounds in Germany and very competitive costs. The biggest success story of the last two years was written by the Idea yard, led by Lord John Fitzgerald. Only in his second year in Berlin he is already the local prize money champion. Taking over the Idea yard in April 2002 Lord John continues in the tradition of English Trainers in Hoppegarten and connects the training centre to the glorious times before WW II.

Lord John previously trained in Newmarket from 1986 to 1992 before holding various senior management positions in the horseracing bodies of Dubai, Hong Kong and Macau. His first complete racing season in Germany in 2003 was very successful. Highlights were the victories of Anzasca in the Deutscher Stutenpreis in Cologne (Gr.III) and of Russian Samba in the Frankfurter Stutenpreis. For this season 35 horses are being prepared at the Idea yard, including 14 two year olds The Union-Klub von 1867 zu Berlin hopes to attract more horses, trainers and owners to come to Berlin in order to reinstall the historic course again as one of the most international centres in racing.