Just last Thursday the Newmarket-based trainer confirmed Royal Ascot hero Mountain Angel had died after suffering an injury in his final gallop before an intended appearance in the Sky Bet York Stakes.
Defoe had scaled even great heights than his stable companion, with his nine career victories including a Group One triumph in last year’s Coronation Cup at Epsom and success in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot on his very next start.
Andrea Atzeni pays tribute to Defoe at Goodwood
The six-year-old son of Dalakhani was last seen finishing third when defending his Hardwicke crown and was in line to make his next appearance in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate Glorious Stakes at Goodwood on Friday.
A statement on the trainer’s website, wwww.varianstable.com, read: “We regret to announce that Group One winner Defoe suffered a fatal injury on the gallops this morning.
“It is probably not a safe assumption that only those who were closely connected with the horse will be heartbroken that he has left this life. Although not large in stature, Defoe had the heart of a lion and his adoring fans from around the world will no doubt join us in mourning his loss and celebrating his achievements.”
The statement added: “At the age of five, he lit up Epsom on Oaks Day with a perfectly-timed run up the inside rail to win the Coronation Cup under his regular jockey Andrea Atzeni.
Watch a full replay of Defoe's victory in last year's Coronation Cup
“His subsequent success in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot was to be his final victory, the ninth of his career from 22 starts. His short-head defeat in the City of Gold at Meydan this spring left us dreaming of what might have been as his long-term target, the Sheema Classic, was abandoned three weeks later following the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is a great sadness that Defoe’s final race came at an eerily empty Royal Ascot where he ran an admirable race to finish third in the Hardwicke Stakes, a scene that was a world away from those jubilant celebrations with Sheikh Mohammed Obaid in the winner’s enclosure 12 months previously.
“We can’t help but have favourites and Defoe was everyone’s favourite horse; from his groom Mark, head girl Dee, regular rider Korrie and to Roger and Hanako’s children he was a star – and such was his popularity with them that they had a rocking horse made in his image.
“A lasting memory for a great horse.”
Varian added: “He was just a lovely horse. He has been around for a few years and has climbed the ranks from humble beginnings to becoming a Group One winner in the Coronation Cup.
“He has been a bit of a star. He was one of those nice guys. My thoughts are with Sheikh Mohammed Obaid (owner) as it is a big loss to him and all the staff at home, who have grown very attached to him over the years.
“He was racing as a seven-year-old and in Flat terms that is a good age and he had been with us for a few years. He was just a pleasure to do anything with. He was one of the good guys.
“I think it would have to be the Coronation Cup as the race that stands out. It is a prestigious race and the only Group One he won and it came at a good time. We enjoyed many good days with him and he won nine races from 22 starts. We had some good days out with him and my thoughts are with the owner and the staff.
“My children loved Defoe. He was the first horse they would go to give a carrot to. But unfortunately these things happen.”
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