Highland Reel Hunts $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1)
Conduit and High Chaparral currently stand as the only horses with back-to-back wins in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), but the record books might need a revision in a couple of weeks.
Showing speed and stamina, the European-based Highland Reel quickly dashed off to a clear lead and then cruised to a 1 ¾-length victory over the favored American entrant Flintshire in the 2016 BC Turf.
Owned by the renowned partnership of Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor, Highland Reel is returning to the Breeders’ Cup with a mark of two wins in six starts since his victory in November at the World Championships at Santa Anita.
The Irish-bred horse, who is bidding to become the 13th winner of the same Breeders’ Cup race in consecutive years, is one of 20 of the world’s finest horses pre-entered in America’s richest turf race, the $4 million BC Turf on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Trained by top European conditioner Aidan O’Brien, Highland Reel was third behind Cracksman on soft ground in the Champion Stakes (G1) at Ascot on Oct. 21. Prior to that, he was fourth in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) on July 29 at Ascot.
In 2016, prior to the BC Turf, Highland Reel was second in Europe’s premier race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
With his horse having affinity for firm turf, O’Brien is confident that the 5-year-old son of Galileo will perk up on the firm turf that figures to be waiting for him in southern California at Del Mar.
“We were delighted with his run. He has been off a long time and he is not a soft-ground horse, but we were over the moon with his run,” O’Brien told the British Horseracing Authority after the Champion Stakes. “(The Breeders’ Cup) is what we would be thinking about. It was the only place we could get a little bit better ground, by going over the far side.”
Flaxman Holdings’ Ulysses is also scheduled to join Highland Reel at Del Mar after skipping the Champion Stakes in order to focus on a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup. Ulysses was fourth in last year’s BC Turf (G1), a little more than six lengths behind Highland Reel.
“The Breeders’ Cup has been the objective for a very long time, really since he was fourth there last year,” Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos family and their Flaxman Holdings stable, told The Guardian in discussing the decision to skip the Champion. “We weighed it up and felt that (the Champion) is just too close to the Breeders’ Cup to ensure that he could be at his best when he goes there.
“You could say it was an additional factor that the ground would be more suitable for him at Del Mar, all being well. But the decision was really more based on the feeling that it was too much to ask him to do, after running in the Arc, to take in two more races and a flight to the west coast of America. He’s very well. (Trainer) Sir Michael Stoute’s very happy with him. We’re looking forward to taking him to California.”
Ulysses was third behind Juddmonte Farms’ super filly Enable in this year’s Arc, and earlier in the year posted wins in the Juddmonte International (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” stakes, and the Coral Eclipse (G1), sandwiched around a second to Enable in the King George IV and Queen Elizabeth (G2).
Another top European challenger is Decorated Knight, who is coming off a half-length win in the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) on Sept. 9, another Breeders’ Cup Challenge race that rewarded the winner with an all-expenses paid spot in the BC Turf.
“He’s tough, consistent, and very sound. He produced an amazing turn of foot and ran right to the line,” trainer Roger Charlton said about his horse’s victory in the Irish Champion.
In May, the 5-year-old Galileo horse won the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) but then lost three straight races – two of them to Ulysses in the Juddmonte and Coral Eclipse – before capturing the Irish Champion.
The European contingent among the 14 horses eligible to start in the BC Turf includes the O’Brien-trained Cliffs of Moher, who was seventh in the Champion, and Talismanic for Godolphin and trainer Andre Fabre.
The 14 horses selected to run in the BC Turf are Arlington Million (G1) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) winner Beach Patrol, Bigger Picture, Bullards Alley, Cliffs of Moher, Decorated Knight, Fanciful Angel, Highland Reel, Hunt, Itsinthepost, Nezwaah, Oscar Performance, Sadler’s Joy, Talismanic and Ulysses.
The six horses on also-eligible list, in order of preference by the Breeders’ Cup Racing Directors/Secretaries panel, are: Seventh Heaven, Smart Call, Oscar Nominated, Frank Conversation, Mr. Roary and War Story.
Nezwaah has a first preference for the BC Filly and Mare Turf (G1), which should open a spot in the race for a horse on the also-eligible list, beginning with Seventh Heaven.
Besides Ulysses and Decorated Knight, Beach Patrol, Hunt, Sadler’s Joy and Seventh Heaven won BC Challenge races.
The BC Turf will be the 11th race on a 12-race Nov. 4 card at Del Mar, with a post time of 7:37 pm EDT and television coverage on NBCSN.