November 28, 2021

Highland Reel repels all comers in Coronation Cup

Highland Reel needs to get a race in ahead of the Breeders' Cup Turf (Photo courtesy RacingFotos.com via Epsom Facebook)

A delayed flight out of Ireland left him scant time to get to Epsom, but professional traveler Highland Reel was unfazed as he duly justified 9-4 favoritism in Friday’s Coronation Cup (G1).

Employing the front-running tactics that have served him so well, the Aidan O’Brien trainee thwarted challenges from two Godolphin runners. Fellow pace factor Hawkbill was the first to try him, only to be rebuffed. Highland Reel punched clear in the straight, then safely held Godolphin’s rallying Frontiersman by 1 3/4 lengths.

“He’s a very good horse,” the understated Ryan Moore said after guiding Highland Reel through about 1 1/2 miles on a good course in 2:33.34.

“He’s proven around the world. He’s won top races in Hong Kong, America and he’s a King George winner.

“He’s been a great horse for connections and a great horse to be associated with. He’s tough more than anything. He always finds more when you ask him. He’s just a pleasure to ride.”

Highland Reel had more petrol in the tank than his plane did. Team Ballydoyle’s aircraft reportedly had a missing fuel cap, so the fuel was cascading over the wing, which kept them grounded until the matter was resolved.

O’Brien, who was scoring a record eighth win in the Coronation Cup, lauded Highland Reel for taking the travel woes in stride.

“He never showed any softness in his life,” the master of Ballydoyle said. “He’s been travelling since 4 a.m. this morning and has only been here an hour. He didn’t have a lot of time to do anything – he had his piddle, got washed off and then came into the paddock. And he hasn’t run since Dubai, which was a good while ago (seventh on unsuitably yielding ground in the March 25 Sheema Classic [G1]).

“Highland Reel is an amazing horse. Tactically, he has speed and he stays. He’s very versatile. He could run in the Hardwicke S. (G2) at Royal Ascot (June 24) if he needs it and maybe then on to the King George.”

The defending titleholder in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) on July 29, Highland Reel is also the reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner. At three in 2015, the son of Galileo earned his first two Group 1 laurels in the Secretariat (G1) at Arlington and the Hong Kong Vase (G1). He previously captured the Vintage (G2) and Gordon (G3). Third to Winx in the 2015 Cox Plate (G1), Highland Reel has placed in the French Derby (G1), and last year’s Hardwicke, Juddmonte International (G1), Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and Hong Kong Vase.

Frontiersman, a Dubawi colt out of the great Ouija Board, proved up to this level fresh off a handicap win at Newmarket. Supplemented to the Coronation Cup for £25,000, the Charlie Appleby pupil is now eyeing Royal Ascot’s Hardwicke. Stablemate Hawkbill would have preferred softer going, and Appleby mentioned he could turn back in trip.

The 33-1 mare Elbereth, a pleasing fourth, will consider an international campaign according to trainer Andrew Balding. John Gosden’s Journey was fifth, but bound to come on for her first start of the year. The same goes for Highland Reel’s stablemate Idaho. But O’Brien’s other runner, US Army Ranger, remains a disappointment after trailing home last in the 10-horse field.