With a total of 18 runners spread across the past 24 editions of the Hong Kong International Races, master trainer Andre Fabre has been one of Europe’s most consistent supporters of the meeting.
His two winners have both come over 2400 metres in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase and he sends a strong contender this year in Group 1 Grosser Preis von Bayern (2400m) winner Junko, who carries the colours of Alain and Gerard Wertheimer; most famously associated with the mighty Goldikova, and one of the most successful owner-breeder operations in France, stretching back three generations to the 1950s.
Fabre also saddles Group 1 Hong Kong Mile (1600m) contender in Godolphin’s Tribalist, who tuned up for his meeting with Golden Sixty and California Spangle with a cosy success at Saint-Cloud in mid-November.
“They had very good ‘prep’ races and in many ways a good racing calendar,” says Fabre. “They are both racing fit and I’m very happy with them.
“The races in Hong Kong are getting more and more difficult to win.”
Indeed, European success has been rare enough at Sha Tin in early December since Fabre sent out Flintshire to win the 2014 Hong Kong Vase, with only Aidan O’Brien’s three wins in the same race – courtesy of Highland Reel (2015 and 2017) and Mogul (2020) – to show from the past 32 individual Group 1s on the card.
Fabre has still been particularly dangerous in the Hong Kong Vase since 2014, with Flintshire, Talismanic and Botanik all finishing second, while future Arc hero Waldgeist was a somewhat unlucky fifth in 2018.
History alone dictates that Junko will carry plenty of respect, having first tasted international travel when sixth in the Group 1 Dubai Turf (1800m) in March, before stepping up to 2400m for the first time in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
“The good thing is that he is now proven over a mile and a half (2400m),” says Fabre, who also took the Vase in 1999 with his first Hong Kong runner, Borgia
“Before he was running over a shorter distance but he’s proved that he stays well. That will help him, as will a good pace.”
Maxime Guyon was the winning rider aboard Flintshire in 2014 and heads to Hong Kong off the back of a third champion jockeys’ crown in France. Guyon missed the ride in Germany as he was riding for the Wertheimers at the Breeders’ Cup in California.
The Hong Kong Mile has been a private battle between the home team and Japanese-trained horses since Godolphin’s Firebreak stormed home under Frankie Dettori in 2004, while Tribalist will be only a third runner for Fabre in the 1600m event.
Tribalist has proved hard to stop under front-running tactics at left-handed Saint-Cloud, but has winning form on good to soft ground and going at right-handed Chantilly.
“My only concern is it’s 100 yards too far,” says Fabre of Tribalist. “He’s more of a seven-furlong (1400m) horse than a miler (1600m) when there is a strong pace.
“But he is a horse with a big heart and if you look closely at his form, he is close to the best milers in Europe. He’s tied in with Facteur Cheval and he’s able to win a Group 1 for sure.”
Few trainers have been as dominant in their own country as Fabre, while at the same time forging a worldwide reputation for Group 1 success.
Sha Tin has been far from immune to his perennial excellence and, in Junko and Tribalist, he returns for the 2023 Hong Kong International Races with a duo that none of their rivals will dare underestimate.