McCabe and Varian feel at home in first cup venture
For both men, daybreak here yesterday must have introduced an environment at once strange and familiar – no less, in their own walk of life, than when others see for the first time the passage of yellow taxis through Manhattan, or gondolas beneath the Bridge of Sighs.
As their respective horses returned from track to quarantine barn, night was draining into the eastern rim of a world Roger Varian and Alan McCabe had visited only in dreams, and the iconic spires emerged above the grandstand as though in austere reproof of the unseasoned daring of these voyagers from afar.
Here were two young trainers trying to set their bearings for the giddiest opportunities of their respective careers to date. And it just so happens that the return of the Breeders' Cup to Churchill Downs affords them the most iconic landmark on the American Turf, home of the Kentucky Derby itself.
Now, in the morning blush, the warren of stabling on the back stretch obtained subtler dimensions than had been permitted by the stark floodlighting of its first shift. Then ghostly horsemen and their charges had been slinking and smoking through the frosty air like the last fugitives of Halloween. But now the world awoke to rich possibility – for better or worse.
Both Varian and McCabe protested themselves very much at home. The former cut his teeth as a teenager riding trackwork in California; the latter sampled American methods under Eoin Harty in Dubai. But it is by dint of their achievements on home soil that they truly belong. McCabe, in his fifth season, has made an unequivocal breakthrough in wringing such improvement from Caspar Netscher; Varian, in his first, has proved a worthy heir to his mentor, Michael Jarvis. He arrives with two live chances of crowning one of the great rookie campaigns: Faraaj, who meets Caspar Netscher in the Juvenile Turf on Saturday, and Nahrain, who takes her unbeaten record into the Filly and Mare Turf the previous evening.
Nahrain gave Varian his first Group One success in the Prix de l'Opera, barely a fortnight after Jarvis was finally claimed by the cancer that obliged him to hand over his Newmarket yard last winter. Jarvis had already seen enough to know that his legacy was in safe hands. "It's a shame he wasn't around to see the filly win in Paris," Varian said. "But I'd like to think seeing what was happening in the stable had given him great purpose through his last year. I think he was more elated than I was by the first winner, at the Lincoln meeting."
Jarvis will perhaps have found as much satisfaction in Varian's understated bearing as in his instant success, having himself long shown how the trainer who deals temperately with the best of times will do the same with the worst. "He was very understanding, knew that with horses things can't always work out," Varian said. "There was never any blame. He would take everything in his stride. And I think it rubbed off on the people working for him, and to an extent on his horses, too. It all stems from the top, like a pyramid. If the top man is well-mannered and even-tempered, you might see something of that in the horses as well. Michael was a true gentleman, and he's the reason I'm here."
Having said all which, Varian must plot his own path now – and it seems significant he should be here so soon, when Jarvis never had a runner at the Breeders' Cup. By the same token, there is impressive focus about McCabe, who has already distinguished himself from other ambitious trainers who simply get carried away by their first good horse. Caspar Netscher, indeed, looked really unlucky when raised to Group One company in the Middle Park Stakes.
"It's amazing to be here, and for him to have travelled on the same plane as Goldikova," McCabe said. "But I'm no stranger to good horses. I've been lucky enough to work with some top people – from Noel Meade to David Elsworth to Godolphin. I've ridden Desert Orchid, In The Groove, Kheleyf. Enough to know where we're going with a horse like this. Robert Winston has been very good to this horse, he's educated him, and it's a shame he's suspended. But he put his hand up straight away, after the Middle Park, and said he should have won."
He paused, and gave a dauntless grin. "We always said that was always going to be a prep race for this one," he said. "Breeders' Cup regulations say you must either have a race or a public blowout within the last 40 days. The Middle Park was our public blowout!"
Chris McGrath's Nap
Amazing Blue Sky (4.10 Nottingham)
Tough front-runner who continues to thrive on a busy campaign.
Good Authority (7.10 Kempton)
Showing verve for his new stable, earning a deserved maiden success last time.
One To Watch
Protanto (David Lanigan) looked another promising young prospect for his trainer when storming through for second at Lingfield last week, and handicaps now an option.
Where The Money's Going
Faraaj is 11-2 from 6-1 with Coral for the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders' Cup on Saturday.
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