11/28/2008 12:00AM

Fabre's long reign is over


NEW YORK - Aidan O'Brien and Alain de Royer-Dupre head the list of horsemen who made the biggest marks in European racing during 2008. O'Brien won 23 Group 1 races, just falling short of Bobby Frankel's record of 25 victories at the highest level while equaling his own previous high reached in 2001. Royer-Dupre, however, caused an earthquake of sorts in France by toppling Andre Fabre from his 20-year reign as that country's leading trainer by earnings.

No one would have offered you more than 1-5 last winter on Fabre's chances of winning a 21st consecutive trainers' title in France. Yet not only did he fail to retain his crown, he failed to win a single Group 1 or Grade 1 race anywhere in the world. He did finish second in the French trainers' standings with 4,582,435 euros (approximately $6.4 million) in earnings with 117 victories from 545 runners. Royer-Dupre, however, gleaned 5,509,190 euros ($7.7 million) with just 49 wins from 260 runners. What made the difference for Royer-Dupre was Zarkava. In fact, it was Zarkava's victory in the $5.5 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe that handed him the title.

The sensational, undefeated filly earned 2,285,600 euros ($3 million) for winning the Arc. So the trainers' title in France was really a question of which trainer would win the Arc. Regardless, Royer-Dupre has done the unthinkable in bringing Fabre face-to-face with his Waterloo, at least until next year.

Zarkava's exploits also enabled the Aga Khan to take the French owners' title with 4,347,890 euros ($6 million), nearly twice as much as was earned by runner-up Khalid Abdullah. Ioritz Mendizabal, who rode Vision d'Etat to win the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) and Spirit One to take the Arlington Million, recaptured the French riders' title he had previously won in 2004 with 200 victories, good for 5,041,150 euros ($7 million), dethroning Christophe Soumillon, whose 174 wins brought him second place. Soumillon, the rider of Zarkava, led all French riders in earnings at 11,212,584 euros ($15.7 million).

O'Brien's 2008 achievements cannot be underestimated. Five Group 1 wins from Duke of Marmalade, four from Henrythenavigator,a third straight Ascot Gold Cup from Yeats, and a sweep of the Irish classics got him within three Group 1 triumphs of Frankel's one-year record of 25 Grade 1's. With powerful teams headed to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup and to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup, he seemed a cinch to set a new mark.

It was not to be, however, and O'Brien probably has only himself to blame. Foolhardy tactics employed in the Breeders' Cup Turf and the Melbourne Cup resulted in crushing defeats for Ballydoyle in both races. In the Turf, he had Johnny Murtagh on 8-5 favorite Soldier of Fortune laying up on the heels of his stablemate, pacesetter Red Rock Canyon, in effect forcing Soldier of Fortune to do the doggy work himself. Soldier of Fortune folded in the stretch to finish fourth.

O'Brien's tactics in the Melbourne were even more inexplicable. After assigned pacesetter Alessandro Volta missed the break, the two other O'Briens, Septimus and Honolulu, went straight to the front. Alessandro Volta recovered to join them after three furlongs. For the next 1 1/4 miles the three O'Brien trainees led their 19 rivals a merry chase, only to cave in through the stretch. Septimus finished 18th, Alessandro Volta 20th, and Honolulu 21st, prompting a stewards' inquiry as to O'Brien's strategy, one that ultimately failed to satisfy Aussie bettors.

O'Brien did pick up one last Group 1 score when Fame and Glory won the Criterium de Saint-Cloud. It must be noted that O'Brien's 23 Group 1 winners came in a 6 1/2-month time frame between April 27 and Nov. 12, while Frankel's 2003 record of 25 was accrued through a full calendar year.

O'Brien cruised to both the Irish and British trainers' titles in earnings, finishing well clear of Jim Bolger, the trainer of New Approach and Lush Lashes in Ireland, and Richard Hannon in Britain, totalling more than $10 million in the two countries. In France, where he finished 17th, O'Brien added another $1.6 million on just 3 victories from 48 runners.

Ryan Moore, who guided Conduit to victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf, won his second British jockeys' championship with 186 firsts from 992 rides, good for 3,581,641 pounds ($6.4 million). The second-leading owner in France, Khalid Abdullah filled the same spot in Britain, chasing home Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya of Jordan, whose 2,167,296 pounds ($3.9 million) in earnings was $650,000 more than Juddmonte's total.

Coolmore dominated the owners' standings in earnings in Ireland. Partnerships led by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith finished one-two-three in the Emerald Isle, where Pat Smullen, first-string rider for Dermot Weld, beat out Fran Berry for the jockeys' crown, 88-83, with Coolmore first-string Johnny Murtagh third with 80 winners.