Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Highland Reel continued to pad his already impressive resume with a 1 1/4-length victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-G1) at Royal Ascot on Wednesday.
With jockey Ryan Moore aboard, the Aidan O’Brien-trained five-year-old pressed the early leader before taking command and pulling off to finish 10 furlongs on the good-to-firm turf in 2:05.04.
“Highland Reel has been everywhere and keeps coming back,” Moore said. “It was a tough performance at Epsom (to win the Coronation Cup [Eng-G1] on June 2) and he has come back after not that long a break. I’d say it was probably a career-best from him today.”
“Highland Reel is a brilliant horse and Ryan gave him a brilliant ride,” O’Brien said. “He is an incredible horse. Pace, courage, tactical speed, he has everything. He was back to a mile and a quarter today and we know he gets a mile and a half well, but was a very good Group 2 winner over seven furlongs as a two-year-old. He always had that pace. A big credit and well done must go to everybody at home that is involved with him.”
The win gave O’Brien what is considered his 300th Group or Grade success on the flat and jumps.
“We are a small part in a massive team,” the conditioner said. “It’s all pure teamwork by all the people involved in this process. It’s a huge chain of people involved and we feel privileged to be a part of it. The lads make it happen and we are so grateful to them for helping guide us along.”
Highland Reel now boasts eight graded/group victories, including the Secretariat Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park and Hong Kong Vase (HK-G1) at Sha Tin. The world traveler has placed in six other group contests, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) in France, Cox Plate (Aus-G1) in Australia and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
The bay son of Galileo may return to Ascot for his next start in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-G1).
“The plan was to come here for this race and then come back to Ascot again for the King George but we’ll see what the lads want to do, but that was what we were thinking,” O’Brien said.
“He has been racing at the top level for the last few years and he is just amazing,” the trainer added. “We always thought the world of him because he has always been a natural, brilliant athlete. Sometimes he gets beat, but if the pace is strong and if it comes anywhere near courage, then he will be there fighting. He has danced every dance. I’m not sure we have ever had a horse with the constitution that he has.”
Decorated Knight finished second, a short head in front of Ulysses. Queen’s Trust, Scottish, Mekhtaal, Johannes Vermeer and 2-1 favorite Jack Hobbs completed the order of finish.
Trainer John Gosden blamed the ground for Jack Hobbs’ poor performance.
“Obviously, that trip on that ground is not his scene,” Gosden said. “A mile and a quarter here in the autumn on soft, no problem, but this just isn’t his ground. He didn’t let himself down on it. He came with every chance in the straight.”
One race before the Prince of Wales’s, Qemah did live up to her 5-2 favoritism to take the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (Eng-G2) with Gregory Benoist aboard for trainer Jean Claude-Rouget. The pair were three parts of a length clear on the wire while completing a mile in 1:38.34.
Qemah is no stranger to Royal Ascot, having triumphed in last year’s Coronation Stakes (Eng-G1), and entered this contest off a runner-up effort in the Chartwell Fillies Stakes (Eng-G3) while making her four-year-old bow on May 13.
“Qemah ran like she did last year,” Benoist remarked. “She was very quiet before the race whereas last time at Lingfield she was a bit excited first time out.”
“Congratulations must go to the filly, jockey and the staff at home including her lad Jerome, who does a wonderful job with her,” Rouget praised the team surrounding Qemah. “We do strong work with her every day as she is a bit delicate, but I was happy to see her before the race today because she looked a different filly from Lingfield last time. There was a big change in her.
“I hope now that she will continue to improve for the rest of the season.”
Aljazzi finished second at 40-1, a neck up on last year’s Duke of Cambridge winner, Usherette. Following the top three under the wire were Smart Call, Aim to Please, Turret Rocks, Dawn of Hope, Pirouette and Greta G.
Heartache drew off in the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-G2) to score a 2 1/2-length victory over 10-11 favorite Happy Like a Fool. The Clive Cox-trained juvenile filly ran five furlongs in :59.63 under jockey Adam Kirby to remain unbeaten in two lifetime starts.
“She’s very special,” Cox said. “She did it very well at Bath (in her racing debut), and I couldn’t believe the time of that race. She’s no different from the rest of mine in that she has improved for a bit of racing and she’s lovely to deal with.
“Two-year-olds are my passion, the stars of the future, and she is.”
“Heartache is good, isn’t she? She has got loads of class and when she won first time out, I knew she was classy but she has come on again from there,” Kirby stated. “I am delighted for Clive. He is a great trainer and doesn’t get enough credit really in my view.”
Happy Like a Fool, saddled by trainer Wesley Ward off a four-length debut win at Keeneland on April 9, led the way but was caught and passed by Heartache.
“When (jockey) Ryan (Moore) came back in, he just said that we got beat by a better filly and I kind of agree with him,” Ward said. “She broke well and was there throughout like all mine have been in the past, but the other filly (Heartache) was just a little bit more talented than our filly today.
“Hopefully, we can turn the tables in the future.”
It was a half-length back to third-place finisher Out of the Flames, while Now You’re Talking just missed third by a head.
Next under the line were Neola, Pursuing the Dream, Darkanna, Treasuring, Missy Mischief, Maybride, Mrs Gallagher, Lady Anjorica, Mamba Noire, Sirici, Mother of Dragons, Formidable Kitt, Bath and Tennis, Rioticism, Debutante’s Ball, Wings of the Rock, Chica la Habana, Go Bananas and Emilia James.
Kicking off the stakes action at Royal Ascot on Wednesday was Le Brivido, who gutted out a neck win as the 2-1 favorite in the Jersey Stakes (Eng-G3) over 66-1 Spirit of Valor.
Trained by Andre Fabre, the Siyouni sophomore gave jockey Pierre-Charles Boudot his first Royal Ascot winner when completing seven furlongs in 1:25.05.
“It is very important to have a winner here at the best meeting in the world and I am very happy,” Boudot said. “I have been waiting a long time to ride a winner at Royal Ascot. Le Brivido is a very good horse and is in good form at the moment. ”
“He looked beaten with a furlong to go and showed his class and courage to come back and beat the other horse,” Fabre added. “I thought he was going a bit freely in the race and he had come from further behind. His action was really good, and he dried up a bit behind the stalls there, so he was looking good.
“This is a new experience for him, coming to Ascot. He is a relatively inexperienced horse, and what I liked is that he showed he will get a mile. We will probably run him in the Prix Jacques Le Marois (Fr-G1). I had no doubt that he was a good horse.”
It was 2 1/4 lengths behind Spirit of Valor to Mubtasim, while finishing out the order under the wire were Parfait, Dream Castle, Daban, Chessman, True Valour, Bacchus, Beat the Bank, Winning Ways, Sir Dancealot, Escobar, Taamol, Whitecliffsofdover, Solomon’s Bay, Sutter County, Barrington, Top Score and Glastonbury Song.
The final two races at Royal Ascot on Wednesday – the Royal Hunt Cup and Sandringham Handicap – were captured by a pair of longshots in 25-1 Zhui Feng and 20-1 Con Te Partiro, respectively.