Royal Ascot 2020: Varian hoping for happy ending in Commonwealth Cup with Pierre Lapin

Roger Varian believes the unbeaten Pierre Lapin is ready to rise to the occasion in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on Friday 19th June.

The six-furlong contest, which forms part of the 35-race QIPCO British Champions Series, has been at the top of Pierre Lapin’s agenda since he landed the Group Two Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes in decisive style at Newbury in September, a victory that was achieved four months after he had won impressively on his debut at Haydock.

The Cappella Sansevero colt, a half-brother to top-class sprinter Harry Angel, will have to overcome an absence of nine months. Varian, seeking a first win at the highest level at Ascot, preferred that option to squeezing in a prep race once racing resumed on June 1, after the sport was halted in Britain for 76 days because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Varian said: “We felt it was a bit tight running in the Pavilion at Newcastle [on 4th June] beforehand and liked the idea of getting him to Ascot as a fresh horse. We’d have loved to have got a prep run into him in May but he’s not a horse I wanted to go bang-bang with and so we took the decision to try and get him cherry ripe for Ascot.

“He’s probably got to overcome a little bit of inexperience but he is a very natural horse and he won in Group company after a four-month lay-off on only his second start. Hopefully, his ability will shine through and he will be streetwise enough for the big day. He’s got to prove himself at the top level but he’s got the gears, definitely, and I think he now has the strength.”

Reflecting on his Mill Reef success, Varian said: “He looked a shell of a horse in the paddock. He had a growing spurt mid-summer, which is why he had such a gap between his races. He’s done great, physically, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.

“In all the Ascot races it will be intriguing to see whether a fresh horse comes out on top, or whether one that has had a prep run and a short time in between prevails. We are all going to do things a bit differently. I don’t think it’s a year to complain too much, and that we deal with the cards we are dealt.”

Harry Angel had a quirk or two, especially at the stalls, but Varian says Pierre Lapin, who is owned by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, is free of foibles. “He’s a very straightforward horse,” the Newmarket-based trainer said. “He’s a gentleman to deal with and hopefully that will remain the case.”

Clive Cox trained Harry Angel and is responsible for one of Pierre Lapin’s principal dangers in Golden Horde, whose exploits as a two-year-old included winning the Group 2 Qatar Richmond Stakes and being placed behind Earthlight in two Group 1 races – the Darley Prix Morny, at Deauville, and Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes, at Newmarket.

Cox said: “He has done very well over the winter after a terrific two-year-old campaign. He carries a real level of form into the race and I believe he’s done as well as any horse possibly could from two to three.

“With the sprinting brigade, in particular, it’s all about maturity and strength. Once you’ve got that natural speed and ability, maturity is the curve you hope and pray continues upwards and for me he has matured as much as he possibly could since last year. I’m hoping we go there with a good chance.”

Golden Horde is a son of Lethal Force, a fabulous sprinter who Cox trained to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and Darley July Cup in 2013. “Golden Horde lives in the same stable that Lethal Force did before him,” Cox revealed. “It gives us a real lift that we’ve been involved with his father. We have a lot of happy memories from those days and that’s what we are trying to replicate.

“Lethal Force didn’t win as a two,-year-old, although he ran some super races in defeat and was rated over 100. Golden Horde was far more successful at two and he’s out of a Pivotal mare, which gives me every hope and confidence in his pedigree that he will continue to move forwards.”

There are international challengers among the final field of 17 with Kimari, trained by Wesley Ward in America, and Wooded, trained by Francis-Henri Graffard in France, in the line-up. The former was runner-up in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, while Wooded won a Group 3 race in commanding style at Chantilly last month.

Aidan O’Brien, successful with Caravaggio in 2017, runs Lope Y Fernandez, Pistoletto, Southern Hills and Royal Lytham, while another Irish contender is the Jessica Harrington-trained Millisle, winner of the Group 1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes last summer.

Karl Burke landed the Commonwealth Cup four years ago with Quiet Reflection and will be hoping Dubai Station, winner of the Group 3 Betway Pavilion Stakes at Newcastle this month, can emulate her. Other notable runners include Mums Tipple, runaway winner of last year’s Goffs UK Premier Yearling Stakes at York, and the Charlie Appleby-trained Royal Crusade, who split Threat and Juan Elcano when runner-up in the Group 2 Pommery Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in September.


Pierre Lapin translates from French to English as Peter Rabbit. Some thought clearly went into naming him as his dam was Beatrix Potter, named after the children’s author famous for writing The Tale Of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter, the horse and not the author, was of limited ability, failing to win any of her 15 races in a career that spanned three seasons in Ireland (2007-2009). But she has already produced one sprinting champion, in Harry Angel, and Pierre Lapin may be
Other horses to share the names of characters in The Tale Of Peter Rabbit have been Mr McGregor Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail but none have excelled.

Article courtesy of QIPCO British Champions Series. Photograph by Rachel Groom.

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