Andre Fabre’s reputation as an international target trainer is unsurpassed and, nine years after his last victory at Sha Tin, the Gr1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase was the Frenchman’s for a third time on Sunday at Sha Tin.
A trailblazer at the Breeders’ Cup, winner of virtually every European Classic and an eternal champion of his homeland, Fabre had flown slightly under the radar with his runner Junko in what had looked hot competition from around the world in the 2400m showdown.
Fabre, though, insisted afterwards that he had felt confident that there was plenty to come from the strapping four-year-old and the positivity was shared by his rider Maxime Guyon, who had also been in the saddle back in 2014 when the globetrotting Flintshire had struck for the same combination.
It was only a month ago that Junko had made his top-level breakthrough in the Grosser Preis von Bayern in very different conditions on soft ground against three rivals but the gelding produced by the famed breeding operation of Alain and Gerard Wertheimer eventually scored with similar conviction.
Settled at the rear of a modest pace set by La City Blanche, Guyon had conceded first run to Ryan Moore and Warm Heart as the gallop picked up turning for home.
Junko came wide of rivals on the bend and tore past Warm Heart and Japanese runner Zeffiro with 200m remaining. Guyon punched the air in celebration as he crossed the line, a length in hand over Zeffiro with Moore’s mount fading to third, two and a quarter lengths in arrears.
“I’m really happy because it’s time to win this race (again). Nine years ago, it was Flintshire,” said Guyon.
“We didn’t know before the race if he would like this ground or not because normally he prefers the soft ground but today in Hong Kong the ground was good.
“We had a good race, we have not a lot of runners so I’m not too far back and just after the last turn, he has a good turn of foot.
“He’s very relaxed and of course the pace is not way fast but the most important thing with the horse is if he’s breathing really good and everything is okay. That’s why I relaxed with him because he he’s very relaxed.”
Guyon quickly offered praise to the trainer who has given him so many fine moments.
“Everybody knows Andre Fabre. He’s the best trainer,” he said.
“He has done a really good job with this horse because he has just won a second Group 1 with this horse – he’s just won a Group 1 in Germany – and he comes to Hong Kong for a win and it’s not easy to do that. I’m really happy for the team.
“It’s a really important place, all the jockeys want to come to Hong Kong to finish the year and it’s a really good weekend.”
Fabre himself had been on the end of three seconds in the Vase since 2014, with Flintshire again a year later, Talismanic in 2017 and Botanik 12 months ago. His first had been with Borgia (1999), who was another of the sort of accomplished frequent flyers that he feels Junko could become.
“I’m really delighted,” he said. “It was expected because he’s improving race after race. He’s not had a lot of races, he’s only four. He had a setback in Deauville so he couldn’t run in the Grand Prix and he had the race in Germany. He didn’t run that much. He will be back in Dubai, we kept him for that and for the international races.”