Even for Luca Cumani it is hard to believe 20 years have passed since the fabulous Falbrav landed the Juddmonte International during a solitary but sensational season on British soil.
Described by his trainer as “the Muhammad Ali of the racing world”, Falbrav had already proven himself a top-class performer by the time he joined the Bedford House maestro, having won two Group Ones in Italy and the Japan Cup under Frankie Dettori the previous year.
That international success at Nakayama proved to be his last for Cumani’s fellow Italian Luciano d’Auria as Falbrav moved to Newmarket for what proved to be his final campaign.
“It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago at all, it feels more like five or six years,” said Cumani.
“The owner had raced him for three years in Italy and he thought it was time to see what he could do on the international circuit.
“I think he came to me in around February of his five-year-old year and we started from there.”
The 74-year-old revealed that while Falbrav’s ability did not immediately shine through, it did not take him long to realise he had something special on his hands.
He added: “It wasn’t immediately obvious how good he was as he was a very laid-back horse who didn’t show you much when he was just cantering, but from the first time he galloped and did a piece of work, you could see that he had instant acceleration and was very powerful.”
Falbrav headed back to the continent to make his first couple of starts for his new trainer, finishing third in the Prix Ganay in April before securing further Group One glory in the Prix d’Ispahan the following month.
He could finish only fifth behind Nayef in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, but turned the tables to win a humdinger of a Coral-Eclipse at Sandown.
Another defeat at Ascot in the King George followed, but Cumani never lost faith.
He said: “His run in the Ganay was a good start – he showed that he belonged, but he needed to improve. And sure enough he improved on his second start when he won the Prix d’Ispahan.
“He won the Eclipse in very good style and the mile and a half and the softer ground didn’t really suit him in the King George, but I remember there was some sort of bonus on offer, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have run him.”
Dropping back in trip on a quick surface at York the following month, hopes were high that Falbrav could again bounce back from disappointment in the Juddmonte International.
Always travelling well in the hands of Darryll Holland, Cumani’s ace kicked in the turbo to propel himself two lengths clear of Magistretti, with his old rival Nayef back in third.
Cumani said: “I was certainly hopeful going to York. In the whole of my career, I’ve never been confident as you never know what might happen in a race. My favourite saying was when it comes to horses and women – never confident, always hopeful!
“It definitely was one of his best performances. He sat behind the pace and when Darryll asked him to quicken with three furlongs to go, he put the race to bed immediately.
“Once Darryll gave him a bit of rein he showed a good burst of speed, got to the lead and held on to the line and won by a couple of lengths.”
Following his success on the Knavesmire, Falbrav was beaten a neck by High Chaparral in the Irish Champion Stakes. Connections attempted to have the result reversed on appeal following interference, but were unsuccessful.
Cumani’s charge gained some compensation in the QEII at Ascot, after which he was again trumped by High Chaparral in a Breeders’ Cup Turf for the ages at Santa Anita, before fittingly rounding off his career with an eighth Group One success in the Hong Kong Cup.
“The Irish Champion Stakes was slightly controversial as I think Mick Kinane rode two horses that day – he was riding High Chaparral and Falbrav!” Cumani recalled.
“He held Falbrav tight in a pocket against the rail and Darryll could never really get down to ride the horse properly and we were beaten a neck, so he was a bit unlucky.
“It was fantastic, that win in Hong Kong again showed what a good horse he was. He did it very easily and showed his trademark turn of foot with a couple of furlongs to run.”
Falbrav ran in 10 top-level races in the space of eight months for Cumani, winning five.
The trainer feels his overall record of eight Group One wins achieved in five different countries is testament to the horse’s class and constitution.
He said: “He had an amazing year with all the travelling he had to do, going to America and back and Hong Kong after that.
“He was a bull of a horse – I always used to say he was the Muhammad Ali of the racing world.
“He would definitely have to be one of the best horses I trained.”