Confident Brittain says Var can go far
There was a time when Clive Brittain feared accident-prone Var might never race under his banner but on Sunday he will line up as one of the real query runners in the Hong Kong Sprint with his trainer one of the few visitors well aware of the obstacle before him.
'I saw Silent Witness when we were here last year and, yes, he's a good horse. In fact, it's a very strong race - the two other horses from Britain I know well and they don't exactly stand still,' the timeless pioneer of international racing said yesterday.
Though the British or even European sprinters have not been well spoken of in recent years, Var is an exception as he has only just 'become' a European after starting his career in the United States.
Though a winner of three of his seven starts there, his Arab owners hardly regarded him as a success and rang Brittain out of the blue to ask him to take the horse and try him on the turf in the United Kingdom.
'It isn't as though he hadn't been tried on the turf in the States but he was failing - he was getting beaten in $25,000 claimers,' Brittain said. 'So anyway I said I'd take him. The first day on the heath for me, he was a bit fresh, jumped up behind another horse and got kicked - lost an inch of bone out of a shoulder,' Brittain recalled.
'Six weeks later, when he'd got over that, he was going out twice a day and there was a thunderstorm during his evening gallop. Bang, another horse took fright, kicked him in the same leg again and gave him a terrible gash. Another three weeks out, and I'd had 10 weeks' training fees without him being any closer to a race. I rang the owner and said 'this horse might never see a racecourse for me at this rate'.'
But a couple of weeks later, he had worked nicely and Brittain thought he'd race him with light preparation and just see what he had.
'He ran in a 1,200-metre Listed race at Goodwood and I put Jimmy Quinn on and told him I didn't really know what to expect,' Brittain says. 'Well, the horse came out and won quite nicely. I thought 'this is OK' and started to train him. Which was why he was beaten the second time out - he's just a fresh horse, the less you do with him the better.'
Brittain didn't need to be told again and when he went to the Prix de l'Abbaye, Europe's premier sprint on the Arc card, he was raring to run under Frankie Dettori and did just that to take care of the best Euope could throw at him, including Sunday's rivals The Tatling, Royal Millennium and Osterhase.
'Because of those early injuries, he never looks 100 per cent sound to people who don't know him but it doesn't seem to bother him,' Brittain said. 'But on his runs for me, Var deserves his chance here. He ran very fast time in winning the Abbaye, just short of the record, and he did it from the worst of the draw.
'Even though it's a 1,000m straight race, there are better and lesser draws and they don't normally win from where he was drawn. Because he was originally American-trained, he's a speed oriented horse so I think the speed track at Sha Tin is going to suit him. If the same horse turns up on Sunday as turned up in Paris, and he looked in great condition today, he should run well.'