The remarkable Highland Reel put up a typically resilient display to land the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Always prominent after breaking smartly under Ryan Moore, the five-year-old son of Galileo handled the drop back to 10 furlongs with aplomb, finding plenty for pressure in the home straight to repel the challenge of Roger Charlton’s Decorated Knight, who was a length and a quarter behind in second, with a short-head back to Sir Michael Stoute’s Ulysses in third.
Highland Reel took his career earnings to almost £6 million with his victory, which was his sixth Group 1 triumph and his third in a QIPCO British Champions Series race. He had won the Investec Coronation Cup at Epsom this month and is now hot favourite to win another, the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next month.
“Highland Reel is an incredible horse,” O’Brien said. “Pace, courage, tactical speed, he has everything. He is tactically very quick and unbelievably courageous.
“He has passed every test that you would want a thoroughbred to go through. His first Group race was as a two-year-old and we have toured the world with him since then.
“Every time, he turns up in big races over a mile, 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs, he has a great mind and has passed all the tests everywhere he goes – he is an amazing horse. He stays and is incredibly brave. Ryan asked for courage and he gave it to him.
“He is like his sire Galileo because he also had so much courage and he has passed it on to Highland Reel ten-fold.
“He has been racing at the top level for the last few years and he is just amazing. 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.”
He added: “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.”
Highland Reel’s victory was a 44th Royal Ascot winner for jockey Ryan Moore, and a first in this race which, with a £750,000 prize fund, is the most valuable contest of the royal meeting.
Moore said: “Highland Reel has a marvellous attitude, like so many of these Galileos. They were the first three there [second-placed Decorated Knight and Ulysses, third, are both sired by Galileo as well].
“Highland Reel has been everywhere and keeps coming back. It was a tough performance at Epsom [to win the Coronation Cup] and he has come back after not that long a break. I’d say it was probably a career-best from him today.
“He’s always tried very hard. Aidan always does a great job of getting him back [from his races] quickly; obviously he’s a very tough horse but he’s a high-class horse as well.”
Connections of the second and third could not have been too disappointed at finishing placed behind such a consistent and superb performer as Highland Reel, and Roger Charlton, who trains Decorated Knight, said: “He was a 10/1 shot and fourth favourite in the betting, but every time he runs he improves. Every time he finds a bit more.
“Ulysses looked as though he had gone past him, but he battled back. I’m really pleased, and it’s no disgrace to be beaten by Highland Reel.
“I think he is suited by being trained mainly by himself and in the nice, calm environment of Beckhampton, which is quite different from Newmarket, where he was trained before [in 2014 and 2015]. He travels well, and we know, that like a lot of Galileos, he can get quite sweaty, but it doesn’t affect his performance.”
Sir Michael Stoute, trainer of Ulysses and fourth home Queen’s Trust, said of the first-named: “I think that’s his best performance to date. He’s developed very pleasingly from three to four, and he is mentally more mature – he relaxes more. I can’t make a decision about what he does next when he’s just run in 100 degrees heat – we’ll have to see how he recovers.
“Queen’s Trust ran a blinder. She was interfered with soon after the jump off, but came home as well, or better, than any of them.”
Sent off the 2/1 favourite, Jack Hobbs trailed home last
“Obviously, that trip on that ground is not his scene,” trainer John 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.”