Roger Varian emphasized that the easiest way would have been to stay at home. How could Ascot and the fairy tale that still has him shaking his head 11 days later be topped?
Varian thought about this question carefully as he stood outside the quarantine barn at Santa Anita.
He hadn’t expected to be here two weeks ago, standing in the California sun, and had been trying to find a reason why he and King Of Steel should stay in Newmarket.
Why go to the Breeders’ Cup when the domestic season had ended on such a high note? Frankie Dettori conjured up a hard-to-believe triumph in the QIPCO Champion Stakes by getting King Of Steel across the finish line in time. Surely this effort in this rain-soaked terrain had taken its toll?
Varian smiled as he took it all in – and there was a reason for that smile. Just before we spoke, King Of Steel had flown over the track where he will compete in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, bouncing off the surface like a stone skimming across a lake.
King of Steel will face Auguste Rodin and Mostahdaf again on Saturday
King Of Steel would be the heavyweight boxer floating around in a pair of ballet slippers. He weighs 570 kg, has a knockout punch, but is delicate on his feet and – most importantly – he is successful and shows the same enthusiasm for the task as his owner Kia Joorabchian.
For this reason, taking things easy wasn’t an option for Varian.
“Kia wants to be here, yes,” Varian said. “This fact cannot be hidden. But he also said that we shouldn’t come if I wasn’t 100 percent happy with the horse. Conservatively speaking, I was probably looking for a reason not to come. Was it flat? Was there a reason? We could have finished with a success and waited for next year.
“But the horse has ticked all the boxes since Ascot. “He never left an oat behind after that race, he hasn’t left an oat behind since he’s been out here. Kia said to me, “If he gives you every indication that he came out of the race well, then let’s do it.”
“We could have waited for next year, but this is horse racing – next year doesn’t always come. “They may stand on a rock, they may hurt themselves in the stable, they may not be in good shape. But he looked like he could walk again. That’s why we’re here. “It’s a long winter to stay home.”
And why don’t you want to be here? That’s what top-class Flat racing is all about, and with the exception of retired Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Ace Impact and Equinox, who is in Japan, the field is as good as you could hope for.
King Of Steel, ridden by Dettori, will again face Aidan O’Brien’s double Derby winner Auguste Rodin and John Gosden’s outstanding Mostahdaf, who will make his final appearance at Santa Anita before heading to the stud halls. “It’s a $4 million race, so it should be strong competition,” Varian said. “These are the races we want to take part in.”
“He’s never run a bad race and has looked like a Group 1 horse all year.” It’s fair to say he’s still improving and a return to the mile and a half would suit him .
“You know, I found working with Kia very easy.” Yes, he wanted to be at Royal Ascot; yes, he wanted to be there at the Breeders’ Cup. But despite all that, we only went to these races when we were sure the horse was 100 percent fit and he wouldn’t pressure me to run.
“We have a good relationship and he’s good for racing.” He’s put a lot of money, support, investment or whatever you want to call it into the sport. And he’s excited – which is great.”
The progress of Joorabchian’s horses, easily identified by the purple silks with white caps, has added a welcome new narrative to the campaign, but he has certainly benefited from having a trainer like Varian in his squad, whose attention to detail is masterful is. During that excitement at Ascot, as the cameras clicked and people shouted for Dettori, Varian had the quick wit to ask people in the paddock to be quiet so as not to spook King Of Steel.
Such precise intervention made the difference between the colt expending too much nervous energy and having enough reserves to sustain his glorious winning run.
“I hadn’t prepared for what it would be like that day, maybe no one had,” Varian mused.
The three-year-old will be ridden by jockey Frankie Dettori in the Breeders’ Cup Turf
“Who would have thought it would lead to this final crescendo? I got caught out in the paddock. I didn’t talk to Frankie, I was 10 points behind everyone else. I was afraid that the noise would upset the horse.
“There were cameramen walking next to him, I tried to silence people.” Everything I did was instinctive because it could have worked. But the horse was under control and the jockey was just under control!
“Thankfully everything turned out well and the aftermath is something I will never forget.”
‘No one will.’