by Dean Hoffman
When Julius Caesar vanquished a foe on the battlefield once, he sent a message to the Roman Senate: “Veni. Vidi. Vici.”
I came. I saw. I conquered.
An Italian conqueror named Varenne came to America in the summer of 2001 for an important battle against America’s best trotters. To those on the outside, the journey might have seemed as simple as putting the horse on a plane and sending him across the Atlantic. But Tom Charters, president of the Breeders Crown, practically did backflips and handstands to make overcome numerous obstacles in getting Varenne to the Meadowlands.
To Varenne’s Finnish caretaker Iina Rastas, the trip to the Meadowlands was a great adventure.
“Going to race in America was really a big thing for me,” she recalls. “ I had never been there and going to race in the U.S. really was something quite extraordinary. Varenne always travelled well, so there was no concern about that.”
Varenne and the Swedish Hambo hopeful Scarlet Knight went directly to the quarantine stable straight from the flight.
“As grooms, we felt responsible for the horses, of course,” says Rastas, “and couldn´t check at all how they had taken the trip. I remember that we went back to quarantine stables early in the morning after only a two or three hours sleep.”
They had to to wait, but eventually they learned that both Varenne and Scarlet Knight were fine.
“Varenne and Scarlet became very good friends during the trip,” says Rastas. “Both were stallions, and they started whinnying when they saw each other. Varenne was quite fresh and full of energy after a long travel and quarantine.”
Certainly when Varenne looked around and saw his rivals in the Breeders Crown, he saw no horse worthy making him sweat. Guimpaolo Minnucci had confidence in his horse. They were the best that North America had to offer: Dream Vacation, Fool’s Goal, Magician, Plesac and others. But they were not worthy of “Il Capitano,” as the Italians called Varenne.
Varenne was parked to midway down the backstretch when he finally cleared to the lead. Then John Campbell and Dream Vacation shot to the front. Minnucci and Varenne waited. They came back out to poke a nose in front at the three-quarter pole.
In the stretch, it was simply “Arrivederci” as the Italian stallion drew off to win by 4-1/2 lengths in 1:51.1, the fastest trotting race in history.
Dream Vacation held for second over Plesac and Magician with the mare Anklet Hanover getting the final check.
“After the race, people were mostly impressed by the way Varenne won the race,” remembers Rastas. “He took the lead, gave it away, and took it back again and won easily. I also remember that Perretti Farms owner came to see Varenne and wanted to buy him. I was just very happy when they didn´t end up making the deal, so that I didn´t have to leave my best friend!”
Perhaps the only one at the Meadowlands not overcome by the excitement was the one who caused it all. To Varenne it was possibly just another day at the office.
Veni. Vidi. Troti. I came. I saw. I trotted.