Aidan O'Brien's message was clear after the Longines Hong Kong Vase (2400m): Highland Reel is “Irreplaceable.” Three times the Ballydoyle maestro pressed that view in his post-race comments and three times the bunched press pack nodded in unanimous agreement.
Highland Reel closed out his globe-trotting career with a second victory in the HK$18 million Vase at Sha Tin Racecourse this afternoon (Sunday, 10 December), a win that epitomized his remarkable time as a racehorse: a street-fighting, stamina-laden seventh Group 1 success on a racetrack thousands of miles from home.
Ryan Moore, who rode him to that first Vase win in 2015, and who drove him to a gutsy second behind Satono Crown 12 months ago, was full of praise for the Galileo entire. Highland Reel is the third horse to win the Hong Kong Vase on two occasions and the first to achieve the feat non-consecutively.
“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,” Moore said of the 3-1 favorite.
Highland Reel stalked the pace-setting Helene Charisma, with Godolphin's Talismanic a tracking third. Moore edged upsides the leader down the back straight, and, on the sweep towards the home stretch, asked the old warrior to press on.
“He's always been a very straightforward horse and he gets the trip very well. He's got a lot of good tactical speed and I was always happy and confident,” Moore said.
Highland Reel kicked to a length lead early in the stretch as the pack began to pursue. Tosen Basil drove down the outside under Joao Moreira but it was Talismanic, two places ahead of Highland Reel when successful in the Breeders' Cup Turf last time, that posed the greatest danger. The French raider joined Highland Reel at the 150m mark but Ballydoyle's battler was more than equal to the threat.
“He's the sort of horse, once he gets into a fight, if he's there in a fight long enough he's probably going to prevail. He just dug in the last furlong and then at the line I thought he was going away and comfortable at the finish,” Moore said.
Highland Reel brushed off his challenger for a length and three-quarters score in a time of 2m 26.23s. The Hideaki Fujiwara-trained Tosen Basil boxed on for third, a further three quarters of a length back.
Highland Reel will now head off to a second career at Coolmore Stud with a record of 10 wins from 27 starts in six different countries.
“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 Champagne (Stakes) 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 5-year-old, we were lucky to get another year out of him,” O'Brien said, stressing again that, “a horse like him is irreplaceable.”
Moore has been in the saddle for five of Highland Reel's G1 wins, including both Hong Kong Vase successes.
“His record shows he's a very good horse and it's a delight to have been a part of that,” the jockey said.
“He's a high-class horse with a great attitude, very durable, he's raced all around the world, 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.”
Maxime Guyon had no excuses after taking second on the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic.
“He ran well,” the jockey said. “I had the perfect trip behind the winner 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.
Moreira was thrilled with Tosen Basil's effort: “Fantastic run,” Hong Kong's Champion Jockey said. “He had everything perfect during the race. He came up as we turned for home to give them a challenge but they are just too good for him but he ran a fantastic third.”
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