Classy globetrotter Highland Reel returns via a proven route chasing back-to-back wins in the Group One Hong Kong Vase, where he will not only face a favourites’ curse, but also a tough four-horse French resistance.
Highland Reel reigned supreme in last year’s Vase as a three-year-old and has since taken another step forward at four with two high quality Group One wins and a second to Ballydoyle stablemate Found in the Group One Prix de l’Arc Triomphe.
The Group One Breeders’ Cup Turf then saw Highland Reel beat the more favoured Flintshire and Found and now the son of Galileo takes on a task nowhere near as difficult as that on paper.
With a clear ratings edge and in the only race of the four features where local horses aren’t expected to figure, Highland Reel will almost certainly start favourite, but that is a position that has seen many highly credentialed horses fail.
Flintshire’s win in 2014 was one of just two wins by favourites in the last 14 runnings of an event that can be “one run too many” for many visiting Europeans and a scheduling afterthought after a long season.
Still, as taxing as Highland Reel’s campaign has been with eight starts in six countries, including a failure at Sha Tin in May, that is the life of some modern-day stayers and something this particular animal clearly thrives on.
The biggest threats to Highland Reel are the two highest-rated French-trained horses, Silverwave, well-beaten last time out in the Arc but a Group One winner this year, and Erupt, a Grade One winner at Woodbine last month.
The remaining two French horses may be a step below in class, but come from the familiar and respected stables; Garlingari for Corine Barande-Barbe and One Foot In Heaven for master handler Alain de Royer Dupre.
Group Two Goodwood Cup winner Big Orange found some form last start in Australia and is joined by a rare New Zealand entry for the Vase, 2016 Brisbane Cup winner Benzini.
Japan bring three runners but they don’t look anywhere near as formidable in this race as the other three features, with their best stayers remaining at home for rich late season targets.
Still, they should all have the four local entries covered, they look outclassed in a race foreign-trained horses have won in 20 of 22 runnings.