The Coolmore partners’ Highland Reel crowned his glittering career by regaining his title in Sunday’s $2.3 million Hong Kong Vase (G1). Aside from the satisfaction of going out on a high note, the Aidan O’Brien-trained gladiator had the added pleasure of revenge upon Talismanic, who’d dethroned him last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Del Mar.
Padding his total as Europe’s all-time richest Thoroughbred with more than $10.5 million in earnings, Highland Reel was also making history for the second time at Sha Tin. The first (and so far only) three-year-old colt to take the Vase in 2015, he became the first to win the about 1 1/2-mile feature in non-consecutive years.
In fact, the son of Galileo was arguably unfortunate not to score a three-peat in the Vase. A midrace pace squabble last December proved costly as he was mugged late by Satono Crown.
In Sunday’s swan song, however, there was no tactical miscue. Jockey Ryan Moore had the favorite perched in a stalking second as Helene Charisma showed the way. Smoothly advancing on the far turn, Highland Reel struck the front, only to find himself beset by Talismanic. The challenge was vaguely reminiscent of Highland Reel’s first Vase, when favored Flintshire appeared to have him dead to rights. Highland Reel fought back then, and two years on, he again had more up his sleeve to hurl back another Andre Fabre trainee.
The globetrotting five-year-old kicked into top gear inside the final furlong and left Talismanic 1 3/4 lengths behind, finishing in 2:26.23 to retire as a seven-time Group 1 winner.
“I was always happy and always confident,” Moore said. “He’s the sort of horse once he gets into a fight, he’s almost always going to prevail. He dug in over the last furlong and I thought he was comfortable and going away at the finish.
“It’s been a massive effort from everyone to keep bringing him back for the last three years. He’s been all around the world and it’s a fitting way for him to finish. He’s been a brilliant racehorse.”
Talismanic’s jockey, Maxime Guyon, had “no excuses” for the runner-up.
“I had the perfect trip behind the winner,” Guyon said, “and I tried to wait as long as possible because my horse only has a short burst of acceleration and that really worked for him in the Breeders’ Cup. But I have no excuses, he ran great.”
Japan’s Tosen Basil checked in third, followed by Chemical Charge, Gold Mount, Max Dynamite, Smart Call, Eagle Way, Kiseki, Danehill Kodiac, Tiberian, and the tailed-off Helene Charisma.
Highland Reel will enter stud at Coolmore with an overall mark of 27-10-6-3, reflecting major wins spanning four seasons and three continents. Victorious in the 2014 Vintage (G2) as a juvenile and the 2015 Gordon (G3), he earned his top-level breakthrough in that summer’s Secretariat (G1) at Arlington before capping the year in the Vase. He added the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth II (G1) to his resume, and this campaign featured scores in the Coronation Cup (G1) and Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot. Highland Reel’s placings include the 2015 Cox Plate (G1) (to Winx) and Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1); the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), Hardwicke (G2), Juddmonte International (G1), and Hong Kong Vase; and he was coming off thirds in the Champion (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar.
Bred on the potent Galileo/Danehill cross, Highland Reel is out of the Australian Group 1-placed Hveger, herself a half-sister to champions Elvstroem and Haradasun. Hveger has produced three Group 1 performers, Highland Reel’s full brother, multiple Group 2 scorer and dual classic-placed Idaho, as well as multiple Australian Group 1-placed Valdemoro.
Moore and O’Brien paid tribute to the unusually hardy money-spinner.
“He’s a high-class horse with a great attitude, very durable, he’s raced all around the world,” his rider said of Highland Reel. “I think the thing that marks him out is his consistency – he usually always runs his best race. He’s been a pleasure to ride and hopefully he’ll pass that on in the future.”
The master of Ballydoyle kept coming back to one word to sum up Highland Reel: “irreplaceable.”
“He’s a very special horse – he’s irreplaceable, really,” O’Brien said. “It’s very rare that you get a horse that can travel like him. He’s been doing it since he was a two-year-old. He won the (Vintage) at Goodwood as a two-year-old and he’s traveled the world in the meantime, so an incredible horse, really.
“He’s irreplaceable for us at home but we were lucky to hold onto him as a five-year-old. We were lucky to get another year out of him.
“A horse like him is irreplaceable.”