Dubai: Roger Varian looking to Sheema Classic with Defoe amid coronavirus crisis

Horse Racing Defoe
Defoe (Andrea Atzeni, yellow cap) defeats Nagano Gold (right) to win the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. Photo: DRC/Mathea Kelley

By Jon Lees

GB: Roger Varian is looking forward to running Defoe in the Dubai Sheema Classic on Saturday week while at home he gets to grips with the implications of the suspension of the British racing programme due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Last year’s Coronation Cup winner Defoe will bid to emulate former Varian stable star Postponed who won the G1 event in 2016 for owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum.

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The six-year-old, beaten a short head in his warm-up in the G2 Dubai City Of Gold this month, was put through his paces on the Meydan track by stable jockey Andrea Atzeni on Wednesday morning.

Varian was back in Newmarket where the rest of his 197-horse string have no racing programme at least until the end of April.

Varian said: “He’s come on for his run and he did a piece of work this morning under Andrea Atzeni. The reports back were very positive – Andrea and the team were happy. Hopefully we have a smooth ten days ahead and if we can get the horse to the race next Saturday how he looks today we would be very happy.

“He’s probably not quite the level of Postponed in terms of his rating and what he’s achieved but he’s a jolly good horse and pretty uncomplicated. He’s in a good spot. He’s had a run, he’s been there a few weeks so is acclimatised. 

“I think he will run very well on World Cup night. Whether that puts him in the mix we will  have to see what else turns up. He is pretty solid, in very good form and we are looking forward to it.”

The cessation of all horse racing in Britain until the end of April has resulted in the loss of key Flat turf fixtures, including the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster, the Craven Meeting at Newmarket and Greenham meeting at Newbury.

Like many of his colleagues, Varian was preparing to have runners at all those fixtures. “Your horses fit into various categories,” he explained.

“It’s fair to say that the majority of your older horses, bar injury or sickness, are pretty well advanced in their training. We planned to have runners at Doncaster next weekend and then a whole host of horses gearing up for mid-April/spring meets, Newmarket Craven and Newbury Greenham meeting.

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“We are obviously not going to be racing until May at the earliest, so some of those horses with early targets are already into faster work and those horses we have to tone down a little bit or they are going to be all dressed up with nowhere to go.

“In another fortnight or so we might have a bit more direction from the authorities about when we might be preparing horses for, and that will help. At the moment it’s very fresh news. It’s not a normal situation and I think we will have to make slight adjustments with some of the horses that have to be ready early.”

He continued: “I think the two-year-olds, particularly the type I train – and I always have some May runners, but not too many and rarely an April runner – can be trained as normal because they have to get into the programme, get through the process, get their sore shins, get an education. That process means they often don’t run until July or August. There’s nothing wrong with continuing the two-year-olds along that programme.

“With the older horses there is no need to panic. Their fast work might stop for a week or two until we get some direction of when we might be racing again and then we can ramp that again or go into cruise control for a bit longer.”

Varian said he is very concerned about the impact the coronavirus crisis was having but urged everyone to pull together.

“I feel for everyone within the industry,” he said. “I feel for the whole world at the moment. It’s heartbreaking watching the stories, not just in our industry, in business, in trade, hospitality, travel, service. 

“For us we have to be patient and not panic. I feel for the owners, particularly the Flat race owners who have been waiting all winter for the start of the season, which is nearly upon us, and now we have to wait a bit longer.

“It’s a time where the industry needs to be together and show solidarity. It’s not my decision, or your decision, it’s a decision that has come from above us. 

“All we could do is follow instruction, take care of the horses as good as we can, prepare them when we know what to prepare them for and ask our owners for some patience but also thank them for their patience.”

He added: “Craven week is a very exciting week, seeing nice horses turn out again and the early trial races. It’s what people would often say is the true start to the Flat season.

“But it is what it is. We are all in it together. There is no one person not affected. All the participants, the breeders, breeze-up consignors will be nervous. Naturally the trainers, jockeys and stable staff will be anxious for the industry to stay healthy.

“The owners are the ones who will have to bite hardest because there is going to be no action for a while. Hopefully things will return to normal.

“All we can do is communicate with each other and accept that we are going to have to be a little bit patient, will have to do things a little bit differently this year and spare a thought for everyone in a worse position than we are.”

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