argentina, audley farm, franco varola, hubertus liebrecht, jill gordon-moore, thoroughbred times
The legendary bloodstock writer Franco Varola produced two of the most important books on mating and breeding Thoroughbreds in Typology of the Racehorse and The Functional Development of the Thoroughbred. Both are deep pedigree theory and are infrequently used in modern breeding, with its emphasis on commercial demands for the production of foals and yearlings.
Varola would have been as much at a loss to evaluate such qualities as most commercial breeders would be at trying to apply Varola’s difficult but insightful aptitudes and principles to breeding an important racehorse.
The Italian lawyer, writer, and Thoroughbred breeder lived a fascinating life, followed his love of Thoroughbreds and racing from Europe to the New World, and spent his last years in seclusion in Brazil.
Among Varola’s confidantes and correspondents was Virginia Thoroughbred breeder Jill Gordon-Moore, who was manager of Audley Farm for several years.
Varola was working with Hubertus Liebrecht in Germany and at his Audley Farm in Virginia, and Gordon-Moore corresponded with him for years. She said, “When I was working with Audley, Mr. Liebrecht had a service arrangement with Varola to advise on matings. I communicated with him as regularly as one can with someone from Brazil and Italy,” where Varola spent his time.
“He came over once and spent four or five days at Audley,” Gordon-Moore recalled. “We drove all over the country, and had great fun. I didn’t fully comprehend all the things he was telling me, but we went to Middleburg one day, and I had a copy of Typology of the Racehorse in the car. He signed my book, and I think I took a picture of him doing that.”
Varola was a purist about breeding. His matings were done to produce the best horse possible, not the most commercial yearling. As a result, “He and I used to get into arguments because he would not compromise his principles about breeding. The best of all worlds would have been for Hubertus Liebrecht to live, develop his broodmare band of 50 mares, and race homebreds,” Gordon-Moore concluded.
She said that the last article Varola wrote was a piece for The Thoroughbred Times about the German N family after Night Fax had won the Delaware Handicap in 1995.
Thanks for stopping over and commenting about my Japan Cup piece. I’ve got you bookmarked and will check back many times.
Never heard of Franco Varola…will do some research on him now! Sounds like his ideas should be put into practice more often…I guess they are in a limited way with the Phipps Stable and other breeding and racing operations.
Kerry M Thomas said:
Excellent read, GREAT Job and thanks for posting/writing this.
John Sparkman said:
I had the pleasure of working with Francesco Varola in publishing those articles in Thoroughbred Times. I tracked him down in Brazil and asked him to produce a few articles on whatever subjects he liked. I still have his original typed copy, which was mailed from Brazil in those days, in my files, some with hand-written notes.
Varola was an original, and certainly one of the more stubborn men around. He never, ever reconciled himself to Steve Roman’s usurpation and corruption of his original ideas, nor did he forgive Steve.
We all live in our times and are products of them, but men like Varola will always be missed.
Would you like to expand on Varola’s thoughts about the “Roman” dosage? Certainly nobody understood the concepts Varola developed as well as their author. It would be a fascinating study.
John Sparkman said:
Varola’s reservations are pretty well known. He objected strongly to equating his aptitudes with distance preferences as Roman did. As you know, Varola’s aptitudes were related as much to sociology as they were to racing performance, and he resented what he saw as basically intellectual rape.
That said, one has to admit that racing had changed significantly since Varola devised his aptitudes. It is not surprising that he never really–at least to my knowledge–took account of that in his system.
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I’ve read Varola’s books, Typology more than once. They’re challenging and fascinating reads. He’s able to entwine the sociology and culture of his time with the aptitudes of TBs in a way that makes wonderful sense.
His principles still hold today, though clearly the different culture would create different kinds of horses because the goals, culture and economy is different. Distance was always secondary to aptitude in Varola’s theories, no doubt, though it grew out of the aptitudes he identified. The apt mixture of aptitudes was the key to his observations.
I recommend the books to anyone interested in horses and/or an intellectual engagement. Much as I learned about language from studying the deep structure and transformational grammar folks, one can come to understand principles of breeding by reading Varola–and Varola is easier to read.
Leon Rasmussen really publicized FRanco Varola’s dosage in DRF for years until Steve came up with his Dosage, a Practical Approach. Prior to that, Leon always calculated the Dosage according to Varola’s methods, explained the 5 categories as what makes up the characteristics of the TB, and calculated the CD (i think) the way Varola did — the Brilliant group versus the sum of the 4 others.
Around 1995 — i think — i got Varola’s address in Brazil from Leon and made contact with him, too, and he was going to do an article for me in DRF. He decided against it, however, because he’d written for TT and didn’t feel it was right to do another piece for another US publication so soon.
Robert Holmes said:
I too read and was greatly influenced by Varola’s Typology.
That inevitably led me to Steve Roman’s work. However I was frustrated as I wanted to know how good a horse was going to be rather than what distance it might prefer.
This spurred me on to find out who were the really prepotent ancestors. Many years and a huge database later I have the answers I was looking for. But had it not been for Varola’s book, which incidentally I stumbled across in J.A. Allen’s sadly defunct bookshop in London, I I would never have taken that first step.
Coincidentally I stumbled across this post while googling Varola. I trust that the great man wouldn’t mind but I have used his name for my blog.
I should add Frank that I also own a copy of your
Racehorse Breeding Theories which I greatly prize.
Melania Varola said:
I am the daughter of Franco Varola and am pleased to have read such interesting opinion and point of views.
I live between Rio and Rome, just like my father did, and if you wish to contact, my phone number is: (5521) 25125165 or 99465233.
If you wish for any information, do not hesitate to contact me.