The author made a visit to the Krieau track in Vienna, Austria on New Year's Day. | Dean Hoffman

Waltzing around the track in Vienna, Austria

February 24, 2017

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A New Year’s Day trip to the Krieau track in the Austrian capital city.

by Dean A. Hoffman

On the last day of 2016, I enjoyed an evening of festivities at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the 2,600-room structure that was home of the Hapsburg Empire for centuries. I was there for one of the famed Vienna New Year’s Eve Balls, where women in glittering dresses and men in tuxedos dance the Viennese Waltz.

On the first day of 2017, I did something far more enjoyable: I went to the trotting races at the Krieau track in Vienna.

The Hapsburg Empire is just a faded memory in Vienna now and the trotting grandeur of Austria has also faded badly.

Krieau is the second-oldest track in Europe after the Central Moscow Hippodrome (which I visited in 1989).

Today Krieau has a modern grandstand in addition to historic grandstands that are no longer used but are protected and preserved as landmark structures.

Racing at Krieau the evening I was there was similar to what you find at many other European tracks. (Except in France. The French stand alone and above in their domination of European trotting.) The fields were large and many races were about 2,000 meters.

When I jumped into the taxi at the Hotel Intercontinental, where I was staying, the driver didn’t know where Krieau was, but they all have GPS now and when I gave him the address we were off and weaving our ways through the dark streets of the historic city.

I’ve had the pleasure to visit many European cities and Vienna is certainly among the most fascinating. It’s the city of Mozart and music, of the irresistible Sacher Torte, and the resplendent State Opera.

Parts of the city were badly damaged by bombs in World War II, but Vienna has been rebuilt into a mix of the old and new, and the historic “Inner city” is easily walkable and endlessly fascinating.

Krieau sits within a wooded park in the Leopoldstadt section of the city. When I got out of the taxi, I wasn’t sure exactly how to enter the track as all I could see were trees, but I’ve been to enough racetracks to find my way.

Fortunately, I had arranged to connect with Nikolaus Matzka, who produces the programs at Krieau. At many European tracks, the program contains stories and photos in addition to the usual race listings and past performances.

Matzka is a knowledgeable pedigree devotee with comprehensive knowledge of trotting bloodlines around the world. He writes regularly on trotting pedigrees.

When Matzka visited Red Mile last October, he made a pilgrimage to the centerfield in the track’s final turn. There is a grave marker there above the final resting spot of Miss Bertha Dillon, an exceptional filly on the track a century ago and an even more exceptional broodmare. She played a monumental role in the foundation of Hanover Shoe Farms’ broodmare band. Matzka routinely refers to the descendents of Miss Bertha Dillon as “the best family.”

Trotting in Austria was formally organized in 1874 when the Wiener Trabrenn Verein (basically Vienna Trotting Association) was formed.

The first president was Count Kalman Hunyady, essentially the “George Washington of Austrian trotting.” Hunyady was a Hungarian nobleman born in 1828. (Remember that until the end of World War I almost a century ago, Vienna was the seat of power in the Austria-Hungarian Empire.)

Hunyady died in 1901, but he is still honored with an international race at Krieau.

The Hunyady Memorial has long been a prize for some of the best trotters in Europe. Many Swedish stars, such as Meadow Road, Queen L, Piper Cub, and Mustard have won it. The American export Eileen Eden also won it.

Florestan and Granit, two sons of the immortal French mare Roquepine and influential sires, also won the Hunyady Memorial. The event is contested over 2,650 meters or about 1.6 miles.

While at Krieau, I had a beer (naturally) with Nikolaus. But how many tracks have you visited that offer a Wienerschnitzel sandwich?

Vienna in German is “Wien,” so Wienerschnitzel is simply a “Vienna schnitzel.” And it was delicious.

As we roamed the track, Matza introduced me to a regular bettor, who greeted me by saying, “Yes, I saw you at the 1978 Hambletonian.”

I was stunned. All I could manage to say was, “Speedy Somolli. That was my first Hambletonian.”

“First for me, too,” he replied.

I’m always thrilled to explore a new racetrack and I enjoyed my visit to Krieau. I’d love to go back when the weather is a bit warmer.

Matzka reminded me of the role France plays in sustaining European trotting because French bettors play significant sums on the races at Krieau and there was a race that night designed for French trotters.

Learning more about the world of harness racing is endlessly fascinating and I prefer Viennese trotting to the Viennese waltz.

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