Untouchable on the Flat – and not too shabby over jumps
Nicholas Godfrey with a few facts about France's greatest trainer of all time
1 Andre Fabre, 71, has been French champion trainer a staggering 27 times in the last 30 years. "Fabre has no serious rival for the title 'France's greatest trainer'," says Racing Post historian John Randall. "He has dominated his colleagues in the quality of his winners like no other trainer before him, not even Francois Mathet." He has won the Arc a record seven times; nobody else has more than four.
2 Born in Spain on December 9, 1945, Fabre spent much of his youth in Berlin, where his father was a high-ranking diplomat in the French occupied zone after the war. He moved back to France to study law in 1968. "At the time I thought I was wasting my time because I knew I only wanted to work with horses," he said. In the mornings, he rode out at Maisons-Laffitte.
3 Although Fabre has rewritten the French record books for Flat racing, he is steeped in the jumps, having ridden about 250 winners, including Corps A Corps in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (French Gold Cup) in 1977 for his employer Andre Adele. He worked as a stable lad and rode as stable amateur before turning professional in 1973; although he rode a winner on his first ride in the paid ranks at Nantes, he was disqualified for taking the wrong course. He once dismissed the Flat as not being macho enough – for 'danseuses'.
4 Fabre retired from the saddle in 1978, aged 32. When Adele died the same year, his owners asked Fabre to take over the licence; he saddled his first winner with Queen Of Tracy at Auteuil on March 17, 1978. Before concentrating on the Flat, he trained four consecutive winners of the Grand Steeple-Chase with four different horses – Fondeur (1980), Isopani (1981), Metatero (1982) and Jasmin II (1983) – ridden by four different jockeys.
5 While his public utterances are few and far between – especially in France – Fabre has always taken the trouble to credit his wife Elisabeth, France's first-ever female jump jockey, for her role in his towering success. "Elisabeth has an innate sense of the horse," he said. "I leave it entirely to her judgement when she interprets the imperceptible signs that make the difference between a horse in good form or poor form. She has a very special relationship with horses."
6 Amid a vow of silence dating back more than three decades, Fabre does not speak to the French racing press. Although the precise reasons for the rift are clouded in the mists of time, it has been reported to stem from a row with Paris-Turf early in his Flat training career in which a lesser trainer was allowed space to cast aspersions on the basis of Fabre's success. Think Martin Pipe over jumps; it was probably hard for them to accept that the 'Little Napoleon' was simply better than them.
8 Sheikh Mohammed has been on Fabre's roster of owners since 1986, despite stories that the trainer issued a blunt response when informed the nascent Godolphin operation wanted to take Pennekamp to Dubai at the end of his unbeaten two-year-old campaign. "If he goes, they all go," is said to have been Fabre's response. Pennekemp did not go: he beat Celtic Swing in the 2,000 Guineas before breaking down in the Derby. Fabre, meanwhile, has trained a string of horses for Godolphin for several seasons, including Group 1 winners such as Territories, Ultra and Cloth Of Stars.
10 Although Fabre is one of just three current trainers to have won all five British Classics alongside Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O'Brien, his record in the Derby was somewhat chequered before Pour Moi scored in 2011. From eight previous runners, Visindar's fifth in 2006 was the best placing he had achieved; five of those eight did not even finish in single figures.