While many in the country are mourning the fact that The Queen didn’t win the Derby, some of us, slightly guiltily, are celebrating the fact that Andre Fabre did. The French trainer maybe the closest thing to Napoleon you’ll ever see — and not just in stature — but he’s also a genius.
A brilliant amateur jump jockey and qualified lawyer — his father was a diplomat — Fabre started training jumps horses in 1977. He won four “Grand Steeples” — France’s top chase — in a row, and then turned to the Flat. He was champion trainer 21 years in a row between 1987 and 2007 (and again last year) and has won Group Ones all over the world, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Arcangues.
But the Derby is the one major prize to have eluded him. He has had nine previous runners in the race, the best being Visindar’s fifth place in 2006, but no joy.
He is, if you’ll excuse the familiarity, a tricky old b**ger. He hasn’t spoken to the French press for nearly 30 years but will — just about — deign to talk to the British press when they come over to France, presumably mostly to irritate the locals. He has absolutely no truck with platitudes, irrelevant chit chat or emotive sentimentality. He isn’t interested in people, just horses. Although he does have a lovely wife, Elisabeth, who is heavily involved with the training operation.
He does not compromise. When he takes horses to run in America, he refuses, unlike the majority of European trainers, to use Lasix and bute, which are permissible under American racing rules. He never runs horses in handicaps, deeming them unfair. When he trained Pennekamp for Sheikh Mohammed in the mid-nineties to win the 2000 Guineas, he said that if the Sheikh took Pennekamp to join Godolphin, he could take every other horse he owned in the yard with him. Pennekamp stayed where he was.
He probably prefers polo to racing — he plays high-goal and always goes to Argentina in the winter. In fact, a couple of years ago it seemed as though he had rather lost interest in racing. He had conquered all for so long that the challenge had gone. He then sold his yard to Sheikh Mohammed and it seemed like he was going to be just a cog in the Godolphin wheel, producing horses in France who would go on to run for Godolphin at the top level.
But here he is, winning the Derby with a horse owned by Coolmore, Godolphin’s greatest rivals. And it was ridden by a 19-year-old who had never been to Epsom – and who has had a public association with Godolphin this spring, winning the UAE Derby for them at the Dubai World Cup meeting.
Who else would get away with that? Only “Monsieur Fabre” could hold the world’s two biggest racing and breeding operations in the palm of his hand and dismiss their potential clashes with a Gallic shrug.