There was plenty of discussion in the racing press after Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum decided to switch around 35 horses, including Group 1 winner Postponed, from the stable of Luca Cumani to his Newmarket neighbour, Roger Varian at the end of last season.
At the time Cumani was at a loss to explain why the sheikh had removed his string, ending a 20-year association that had enjoyed Derby glory with High-Rise in 1998 plus Group strikes with the likes of Zomaradah, Emirates Queen, Afsare and Connecticut.
Seventeen years may be a long time between Group 1 drinks for a high-profile owner but surely that cannot explain the sudden exodus from Cumani’s Bedford House Stables
Seventeen years may be a long time between Group 1 drinks for a high-profile owner but surely that cannot explain the sudden exodus from Cumani’s Bedford House Stables, which followed Postponed’s thrilling success in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and subsequent victory in the Prix Foy.
Interestingly, that statistic would have been different had Zomaradah’s first offspring been retained by Sheikh Obaid. Instead, Dubawi, the best runner from the sole crop of the ill-fated stallion Dubai Millennium, went on to represent the Godolphin operation of Sheikh Mohammed – Sheikh Obaid’s cousin – and is now one of the world’s elite sires.
For every loser there is a winner, of course, and Cumani’s loss has been Varian’s gain. The quietly-spoken handler has not wasted any time in showcasing his own talents and while the majority of his inmates at Kremlin House Stables have been limbering up for the turf season, Postponed has been making hay while the sun shines in Dubai, scoring victories in the City of Gold and Sheema Classic, bagging £2.6 million along the way. Not a bad start to the season for both trainer and owner embarking on a new partnership.
In this month’s Talking To (pages 48-52), Varian, who will oversee over 200 horses this season, tells Tim Richards about how he dealt with the matter of receiving Sheikh Obaid’s runners.
“Owners pay the bills and they have the right to move their horses to another trainer if for some reason they are not happy; it is part of the industry that we have to deal with,” Varian explains.
“This was a high-profile move that naturally gained media coverage. Most important for me was to be honest and respectful to the people closely involved with the change of circumstances, the owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid and trainer Luca Cumani.
“I spoke with Luca at length one evening, some considerable time before the story broke. He could not have been more of a gentleman. I admire him for that.”
When it comes to the big stars, most people will undoubtedly associate a racehorse primarily with its trainer. Think of Frankel and the first name likely to pop into your head will be [Sir] Henry Cecil, not Khalid Abdullah. Sheikh Joaan Al Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing owned Treve – but Criquette Head-Maarek was always the first point of contact.
The fact is that most trainers own – in real terms – as much of these horses as you or I. The breakdown of the relationship between Clive Smith and Paul Nicholls over Kauto Star’s retirement plans shows what can happen when these waters become muddied.
One owner and breeder who is unlikely to be overshadowed by any of his trainers is Bill Gredley. It’s 25 years since his famous silks were carried to victory in the Eclipse at Sandown by 28-1 outsider Environment Friend, while in 1992 his exceptional filly User Friendly carried all before her, notching four Group 1s including an Oaks treble and the St Leger.
In a superb interview with Julian Muscat (pages 42-46), the property tycoon explains why he still gets a kick out of watching his homebreds succeed on the racecourse, with top stayer Big Orange one of his main hopes for the season ahead, and why he’s happy to be known as a maverick in the sport.