THE STORY OF VARENNE
Varenne, the story of Varenne, the strongest horse of all time, winner of the most important trotting races in the world.
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Varenne, the Story of Varenne (with a capital “S”) was born on a stormy night on the Zenzalino estate, a town in the Ferrara area, on the night of 19 May 1995.
Between wind, thunder and lightning, the team leader of the Zenzalino breeding centre, Alessandro Rondini, notices that the mare Ialmaz is in full labor and is doing badly.
These are the words of Alessandro Rondini: “Ialmaz was ready to give birth, but she wasn’t well, she often lay down on the ground, which was not normal behavior and at midnight the foal’s front leg appeared but not the other.
Alarmed, I called the vet, but he was two hours away by car, in Rimini.
So I understood that there was no time and I would have to take care of it.
With the phone to my ear I did what the vet told me. I pushed the leg back in and took it out with the other, allowing the foal to come into the world. It was an unforgettable night.”
The Zenzalino estate, where Varenne was born
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The story of Varenne. The owner of…
… the owner of the breeding farm, Sandro Viani, decides to name the colt Varenne in honor of the street of the Italian embassy in Paris which, however, was not born with the qualities of the predestined.
Waikiki Beach, the father, is an American stallion who gives birth to around one hundred medium quality foals in a year and the mother, Ialmaz, is a decent Italian mare of French ancestry, and no one expects a champion to be born.
Rue de Varenne
Ialmaz is part of a group of six mares that Sandro Viani co-owns with the Frenchman Jean Pierre Dubois, but the visions of the Italian breeder are decisive.
He says: “French horses have more power, American ones are more agile, more agile. In my horses there is therefore always 1/8 French blood, as in the case of Varenne”.
But it doesn’t enchant at all. So much so that Dubois only needs 60 million lire to take over the other half of the six foals from the mares he co-owns.
At the age of six months, Dubois took the six foals he had purchased to Normandy.
The story of Varenne. In the winter…
… in the winter of 1997 Sandro Viani go to Normandy to visit Dubois together with Guzzinati, the driver of many champions born in Zenzalino and the two stopped in front of a paddock and saw a colt with a humble look all dirty with mud and his back covered by a tattered blanket.
The little horse turns towards them and stares at them with the same melancholy look.
At that moment a man from the stable passes by and shouts sarcastically: «Monsieur Sandrò, Monsieur Sandrò, buy him, he’ll come away for little money».
Viani remembers that we looked at each other with a nod of understanding that said: “We’re not crazy.” I’ll spare you the name of that horse.”
The cliffs of Normandy
But there is a much more serious problem than appearance.
Varenne is diagnosed with a micro bone detachment in a leg, a serious problem for a thoroughbred destined for racing and Dubois puts him on the list of horses to be sent to the slaughterhouse.
Sandro Viani didn’t buy Varenne but as a good “father” he insisted and convinced Dubois to spare him and give him a chance.
The Maremma of Bolgheri
The story of Varenne. Varenne, betrayed by nervousness…
… betrayed by nervousness, breaks into a gallop and is immediately disqualified but the driver, after stopping him by letting the other horses pass ahead, decides to complete the race anyway, and Varenne shows what he is made of by finishing close to the winner after a recovery of more than 40 meters of disadvantage.
A colt like this doesn’t go unnoticed and the race to buy him breaks out but Dubois wants 150 million lire.
Giampaolo Minnucci, a Roman driver who is very expert in the subject, goes to see it together with Jori Turja, a Finnish coach and both are immediately impressed.
They both know who to propose it to.
To a Neapolitan entrepreneur who has always been passionate about horses, Enzo Giordano, although among the possible buyers there is also the Venetian Pietro Bezzecchi who has almost completed the purchase.
But a problem arises: an x-ray check reveals a small bone near the cartilage, in jargon a chip, which can almost eliminate the value of a racehorse.
Bezzecchi is cautious and gives up the horse but Minnucci understands that it is his big chance, he presses Giordano who, even if he has never seen him race, buys it based on the trust he has in Minnucci.
April 30, 1998 is the day of Enzo Giordano’s wedding in Naples, which however is also the day on which his new acquisition, Varenne, goes on stage at the Roman hippodrome of Tor di Valle, now closed.
Departure at 2.30pm, one minute and 15 seconds later Varenne crosses the finish line, clearly separating the rest of the group.
A historical image of the Tor di Valle trotting racecourse
The story of Varenne. “I understood that…
“I understood that perhaps I had made the fortune of my life” Giordano recalls with emotion.
Varenne confirms himself by winning the Premio Stabile in Aversa.
Then the National Prize of Milan, after the derby, the most important race for a trotting horse.
The National Award of Milan is Varenne’s first truly great challenge, which finds a champion accustomed to winning with at least a second of separation, Viking Kronos.
And Viking makes no mistakes while Varenne, fatigued by the after-effects of a flu, has to settle for second place.
Lutfi Kolgjini, the Kronos driver, turns mockingly towards Varenne and Minnucci just before the finish line, waving his hand at them to hurry up.
This affront will not be forgotten neither by Varenne nor by the thirty-year-old Roman jockey.
After the victory of the Marangoni Prize, the long-awaited derby arrives. The most important race ever for three-year-old horses and Minnucci states “For the horse it is a race worth a lifetime”.
The story of Varenne. On 11 October…
… on 11 October 1998 at the San Siro trotting racecourse, the atmosphere is electric because everyone knows that it will be a two-horse race, not between two simply fast horses, but between two champions.
Varenne sprints after the first corner, followed by Kronos, constant, rapid, noble, confident pace, he slows down slightly then, before the last corner, he makes an amazing sprint, a sprint that Kronos doesn’t have in his legs.
Varenne takes flight on the final straight while Kronos slips to fourth place.
Minnucci is enthusiastic and riskily takes the reins with one hand and turns to look for his rival Kolgjini, thus sending the immediate mockery to the sender back to the sender.
A historical image of the San Siro trotting racecourse
The story of Varenne. In September 99…
… in September ’99 Varenne already boasted 16 victories in grand prix, where the Triossi and the Continentale stand out.
But the event that all of Italian horse racing awaits with great interest is the Nations Grand Prix, dominated in the last two editions by the queen of world trotting Moni Maker.
Moni Maker is a very elegant horse, perfectly aware of being a cut above the others and simply judging the sums won in her career would not do justice to the nobility of her trot.
Minnucci’s strategy is to run away in front of everyone and then dictate the rules of the race but Moni Maker is a great champion and doesn’t let herself get passed.
At the last 600 meters Varenne gets alongside Moni Maker to pass her on the outside.
The last 250 meters are the pure demonstration of Varenne’s immense class who, confident and very fast, crosses the finish line first, driving all the spectators at San Siro crazy.
A curiosity: at the end of the race, unlike the relationship with Kolgjini, there is a nice handshake between Minnucci and Wally Hennessey, Moni Maker’s jockey.
Varenne sends trotting Italy into raptures.
Now all doubts disappear: Varenne is the horse to beat.
He is certainly a phenomenon but he is also a lucky horse, a quality that many great champions have in common.
Varenne with Minnucci
The story of Varenne. Behind the Captain…
… behind the Captain, Varenne is now called the Captain, there is a competent, loving, high-performance and close-knit team that goes from the owner Giordano, who loves him like a son, to the driver Minnucci, with whom there is total harmony, from Coach Turja is under the no less important care of the Finnish groom Iina Rastas, who left Finland and university for him.
Iina speaks to Varenne in both Finnish and Italian and Minnucci assures her that “he understood both languages very well and, slyly, when she needed her to understand he understood, when he didn’t need to understand he didn’t understand. When a horse understands two languages, I leave it to you to discuss his intelligence.”
Iina Rastas with Varenne
A few days before New Year’s Eve, Varenne won the Prix de Hémard in Paris, the dress rehearsal for the famous Prix d’Amérique the following month.
The Prix d’Amérique, named in recognition of US aid during the First World War, is the most famous and coveted trotting race in the world.
2700 metres, the prize money is one million, half is allocated to the winner and the rest to be divided between the top seven. The rival is the master of the house, the famous Général du Pommeau.
Varenne is nervous and starts among the last, tries to recover but fails, ends up third. The General beats the Captain.
A setback which however does not slow down the enthusiasm of Varenne and his team, now all focused on the Lotteria di Agnano.
The story of Varenne. The Agnano Lotteria is…
… the Agnano Lotteria is not just any race for Giordano, who has been going to that race since he was five years old. Varenne wins easily, a victory that causes illness to its owner, who is immediately hospitalized and despairs because he cannot celebrate the victory in the home grand prix.
The Agnano Lotteria 2002
After this victory everyone is busy preparing for the Stockholm Elitloppet, but to win you need to put Victory Tilly behind you but Varenne makes a mistake and ends up fifth.
To give his best, Varenne needs to be put under pressure, to go to his maximum he often needs to be supported, spurred on by another horse and this can be very risky.
Varenne is now a star and tempting everyone.
Giordano is proud to have it and is proud that it is an all-Italian story.
In May 2000, Snai purchased 50% of him, guaranteeing his Italian character until the end of his career but it was also a strategy for the general public to create a brand around him.
The story of Varenne. Even the director of the…
,,, even the director of the Gazzetta dello Sport, Candido Cannavò, ensures good coverage of his exploits with headlines on the front page.
Varenne perfectly embodies the spirit of winning Italy and celebrates the Jubilee of 2000 by crossing the finish line in front of the General under the thunderous applause of 15,000 spectators at the Tor di Valle racecourse.
It is the last test before the big French event
On 28 January 2001, the Vincennes trotting racecourse experienced a riot of Italian spirit with tricolor flags everywhere, over six thousand Italians waited for their Captain and this time Varenne was the favourite, glory was at the finish line of the legendary 2700 metres.
An Italian horse has not won the Amérique since 1947, a long wait that ends that day.
The Vincennes trotting racecourse
The Captain triumphs and with him the whole of Italy. The tricolors fly in the sky of Paris and Enzo Giordano, the owner, remembers that they celebrated with over three hundred guests in two Parisian restaurants but he would have liked to invite all the six thousand Italians present at the racecourse and the following day the Gazzetta dello Sport headlined “MAGNIFIQUE! ” with nine columns but the Captain doesn’t stop, he wins the Lottery again and prepares the only race still missing from his personal grand slam, the Elitloppet.
The story of Varenne. The opponent is…
… the opponent is formidable, Victory Tilly is led by Joansson, known as iceman, a jockey with 20,000 career victories, a legend.
Minnucci recalls that Joansson was at home, he knew Varenne and the track very well and even “a year could pass before he spoke to you”.
It’s a beautiful race. The Captain starts from the back, then goes to the outside and the two separate everyone.
Varenne stays close to Victory, studies him and then passes him with a breathtaking sprint on the final straight.
It is the definitive seal: Varenne is the best trotting horse in the world.
The 35,000 Swedes present at the racecourse release the tension with endless applause.
This is probably the best victory because it was achieved against the most difficult rival.
After the race Joansson congratulated Minnucci and the world trotting horse racing wants him to fly to America for the Breeders Crown, in New Jersey, at the Meadowlands racecourse but there are many unknowns.
It would be the first time that Varenne takes the plane and in New York it is over 40 degrees and he doesn’t like the heat at all and, above all, there is a 1006 runway, a measure that does not exist in Italy, which implies a tactic of a different race that risks making a fool of yourself.
But, fortunately, in the night before the race it rains a lot and the temperature drops by 10 degrees.
The Italian Americans, many of them and wearing tricolours, stop Giordano and ask him “paisà, can we really beat the Americans?”.
The story of Varenne. During the trip…
… during the trip we understand that Varenne wants to run that day, he really wants to run.
Varenne leads everyone and Minnucci runs the last 100 meters before the finish line, looking towards the scoreboard to immediately understand if his time will be a record.
Yes, it is the world record!! Also celebrated by the proud tears of joy of the many Italian Americans present at the racecourse.
The Meadowlands trotting racecourse
This victory also marks a change of mentality for Minnucci and in the equestrian world because we Italians were the ones who bought horses in America, now they are the ones who come to buy horses from us.
January 27th is an important date because it is necessary to defend America’s victory, under the eyes of the 10,000 Italians who rushed to Paris for the occasion.
Unfortunately, after 3 recalled starts, the jury disqualified Minnucci, imposing a fine of 24,000 euros and a one-month ban from racing.
Minnucci says “I was nervous. We had to go to the front and stay there. But there were a lot of us who were naughty, if you don’t do that you’ll lose America before you even race it.”
But Varenne dominates and wins, setting another record in 1.12.08, and from the stands during the lap of honor a cry goes up: “His Majesty the King”.
The Prix d’Amerique
Varenne is elected “Horse of the Year” for the second time. In Agnano Victory Tilly tries again but Varenne is too strong and also confirms herself at the Elitloppet 2002.
He has now won all the important races several times and, as all true champions know, it is much better to retire when he is at the top.
The story of Varenne. The farewell to the…
… the farewell to the Italian tracks is at the World Cup, San Siro racecourse, with a beautiful victory, gaining all the affection of his fans.
Then a long trip between Europe and America. In Finland, on a 1km track, he almost broke his world record. Over the two km, in Paris, record in 1.10.08.
It is the last great exploit because in Montreal, on 28 September 2002, just as it had begun, the career of the greatest trotter ever ended with a disqualification.
Varenne, the greatest trotter in history, concluded his immense career with 62 races won out of 73 contested, the only one in the history of horse racing to have been “Horse of the Year” in 3 different nations (Italy, France, United States), the only one to have won the three most important trotting races in the world in the same year, the golden 2001, and over 6 million euros in prizes, obviously also a record figure.
Quantifiable data and numbers such as the value of his immense progeny with over two thousand children scattered around the world.
Among these we note the champions Lana del Rio and Lisa America, the excellent Nadir Kronos, Napoleon Bar, Olona Ok and the rampant Vernissage Grif which promises great things, already winner of two lotteries.
These are calculable things. However, the emotions that Varenne was able to convey to all horse racing enthusiasts in the world and in the hearts of all Italians cannot be calculated.
Lana del Rio
The story of Varenne. Today…
… today in the peace of the Pavia countryside, between a trip and four very selected meals a day excluding snacks, many fans visit the Captain for a caress and some thanks.
Varenne is flattered and always willingly takes photos with his admirers.
He received a lot from us men and women but he gave us much more: emotions, joy, entertainment… all born on that stormy night in 1995.
Here we end the story of Varenne but…
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