In a brilliantly confident display of reinsmanship, jockey Seamus Heffernan won his first Breeders' Cup by moving Highland Reel nearing the half-mile pole in Saturday's Longines Turf. The Coolmore partners-owned colt gained nearly a seven-length advantage over his rivals entering the far turn, and had enough left in reserve to hold off Flintshire by 1 3/4 lengths on the wire. By Galileo, Highland Reel was clocked in 2:23.00 for the 1 1/2-mile course over Santa Anita's firm turf, giving trainer Aidan O'Brien his 11th Breeders' Cup victory.
“Seamus (Heffernan) is a great lad,” O'Brien said. “He was very happy to make the run, and when he did, he controlled the race perfectly. He kicked at the right time, and really the race was over from a long ways out. Ryan, who rode Found, said he knew there was no catching him for a long ways when Seamus left the way he was in front. And when he kicked it was over, because he doesn't stop. So we couldn't be happier, really.”
Highland Reel may not have been the first out of the starting gates half-way up Santa Anita's hillside turf course, but he was certainly the first to make his presence felt. Ralis broke sharply from the inside, along with Ectot, but Highland Reel had put them away before the quarter-mile mark. Recording fractions of :24.83 and :48.00, Heffernan guided Highland Reel to a three-length advantage over Ectot and Ashleyluvssugar vying for second. Money Multiplier and Flintshire were not far back in fourth and fifth, respectively. Last year's Turf heroine Found was in second-last in the early stages.
Heffernan eased Highland Reel through a third quarter in 24.70 seconds, marking six furlongs in 1:12.70 as he allowed Ectot to close the gap to two lengths. The jockey quickly picked the pace back up approaching the far turn, shocking his rivals by moving out to nearly a seven-length lead to clock a mile in 1:36.16, scrubbing away on Highland Reel's neck to gain as big a lead as possible.
“He's the type of horse that's brave in front,” Heffernan said. “And when he wants to go, you let him go and he turns it on. I thought there were a few horses that were going to come from the back and come quick. So if I was going, I wanted to go early.”
Flintshire had begun moving up into fourth behind Ectot and Ashleyluvssugar, but his jockey Javier Castellano would have a lot of work to do in order to catch the flying Highland Reel.
“He tried to steal the race and he stole it,” Castellano said after the race. “Unfortunately, the way it worked out, it was unfortunate for my horse. Usually you don't see the European horses run so aggressively, open up and carry their speed. Especially at 1 ½ miles but it worked out great for him.”
Turning for home, Highland Reel and Heffernan still held a five-length lead over Flintshire, with Found rallying through the pack to move into third. Flintshire gave Castellano every ounce of his heart to try to catch Highland Reel, but came up short by 1 3/4 lengths at the wire to finish second once again, mirroring his 2014 finish in the race. Found was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third, threading through the pack to finish well after a lengthy 2016 campaign in what may well be her final race. Ulysses ran on well to out-finish a big group of horses for fourth.
“It was great,” co-owner Derrick Smith said. “The race was set up for us with the ground and everything else.”
Bred in Ireland by the Hveger Syndicate, Highland Reel was a $777,485 yearling purchase at the Tattersalls October sale. A multiple Group 1 winner overseas, Highland Reel was successful on his first trip to the United States in 2015, winning Arlington's G1 Secretariat Stakes. Most recently, he had finished second behind his stablemate Found in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but he was able to turn the tables on the talented filly in the Breeders' Cup. Overall, Highland Reel has won seven of his 19 lifetime starts finishing second another five times, with earnings now over $7 million.
“The future for Highland Reel I think is very rosy,” said co-owner Michael Tabor. “I think he'll carry on racing and hopefully keeping the same form as he's been this year. I don't know what Aidan would echo my thoughts, but that would be my thoughts initially is that we'd continue to race him.”
Watch the race replay here:
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