3 minute read
Kamel Chehboub has been in racing long enough to know that years like 2023 don’t come around all that often.
His family's Gousserie Racing has experienced the highest high imaginable, having bought a half share in Ace Impact after his Prix du Jockey Club success and then witnessing Europe's Horse of the Year rout a quality field in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a race Chehboub has dreamed of winning for decades.
That passion is now shared by his daughter Pauline, who is currently in the French seaside resort of Deauville promoting Ace Impact's new career as a stallion, though her brother Axel has made the trip to support Horizon Dore in Sunday's (10 December) G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m).
Chehboub has been fascinated by international racing throughout his time in racehorse ownership and struck gold when Spirit One and Ioritz Mendizabal landed the 2008 Arlington Million.
More recently Sealiway won the 2021 Champion Stakes at Ascot before tackling the Saudi Cup, while Group 1-winning filly Rougir followed in her stablemate's footsteps when travelling to Del Mar for the Breeders' Cup.
Hong Kong is new ground for Chehboub, though it has long been a place he was keen to tackle.
"We could have brought Sealiway here but he'd won the Champion Stakes as a three-year-old and had enjoyed a busy year so we gave it a miss," says Chehboub.
"But with Horizon Dore being a gelding the number one priority from the start of the year has been to travel with him.
"We had a choice of the Japan Cup and the Hong Kong Cup and we felt that the extra recuperation time would be a benefit to him, and he's already showing us that it has done him good."
Reflecting on why it has taken so long for his yellow and emerald green silks to grace Sha Tin, Chehboub says: "With Rougir the timing didn't work out but it's been a long-held ambition of mine to have a runner here.
"Years ago, we missed out on coming to Hong Kong with Spirit One.
"He won the Arlington Million and there was a bonus on offer if he could follow up in the Hong Kong Cup but when he got back from America he never ran again."
Chehboub has never been one to do things by half, and the family has invested heavily in renovating and developing the Haras de Beaumont in Normandy, the stud farm which is now home to Sealiway and Ace Impact, as well as Stunning Spirit and Intello (should his son Junko land the LONGINES Hong Kong Vase Chehboub will feel he has won before his own horse enters the gate).
Thus, when he finally decided to travel to Hong Kong, it was with a serious horse in Horizon Dore, the only three-year-old in Sunday's 11-strong lineup.
He was the only horse to make Big Rock get out of second gear in a remarkable edition of the Group 3 Prix de Guiche, run in torrential rain and which saw horses strung out all across Chantilly by the finishing line.
Since stepping up to 2000m and returning to fast underfoot conditions, the son of Dabirsim has embarked on a steeply progressive journey, winning his Listed with the minimum of fuss before knocking off one Group 2 and one Group 3, then the Group 2 Prix Dollar on Arc weekend.
On all four occasions he cruised through the race before deploying a turn of foot that marks him out as a horse to be taken seriously in any company.
As a gelding his opportunities at Group 1 level are limited in France but when finally pitched into top company in the Champion Stakes at Ascot, he showed he belonged at that level, running a courageous third behind King Of Steel in ground every bit as deep as that he had encountered in the Guiche.
Chehboub says: "Horizon Dore is a 'crack', that's all there is to it! We very much hope that he will show it on Sunday.
"He ran very well at Ascot despite having excuses because the ground was not to his liking and he pulled quite hard. He is a top horse."
Horizon Dore has tended to be ridden from off the pace - though Mickael Barzalona had him within striking distance turning for home at Ascot - which raises the question of whether he will be able to take advantage of breaking from the innermost barrier.
"I think that here, being drawn one is an advantage," says Chehboub. "He's a horse with natural pace and good gate speed. So, I think being on the rail cannot be anything other than an advantage.
"And he can follow whatever pace there is in the race."
Chehboub adds: "The main reason to come is that we think he'll be very well suited to this racecourse and this style of racing. The races are usually run at a good clip, which will suit him."
Gousserie has about 50 horses in training and very few of them cost anything like a king's ransom. So, the fact that they have registered seven group wins this year marks 2023 out as a vintage year, even before you take the Arc into account.
Horizon Dore has the sort of profile that gives him every right to be in the conversation alongside LONGINES Hong Kong Cup rivals Romantic Warrior, Luxembourg and Prognosis.
And if Barzalona can get him within a few lengths of the lead turning in, the Chehboub family's racing year might go out on yet another notable high.