In modern racing’s globalisation era there are great horses and tremendous travellers – but Highland Reel is both and has a second straight Hong Kong Vase at his mercy.
Highland Reel can cap a season that has already seen the four-year-old capture two Group Ones with victories at perhaps the two biggest race meetings in the world, Royal Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup.
It would also deliver superstar jockey Ryan Moore yet another international Group One and make Highland Reel the third two-time winner of the 2,400m race, joining Luso (1996-97) and Doctor Dino (2007-08).
Aidan O’Brien’s globetrotter has such a ratings gap on his exposed opposition that it seems only severe trouble in running or travel tiredness can get Highland Reel beaten.
Since a decisive win over Flintshire in last year’s Vase, Highland Reel has raced eight times in six different countries – starting in Dubai in March and picking up a second in the world’s highest-rated race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, along the way.
It is a gruelling schedule, but anyone looking for a chink in the Coolmore stayer’s armour during trackwork this week would have come up with nothing – the son of Galileo is nothing short of an iron horse.
Just as he did last year, the stallion has devoured an extraordinary work routine, confounding track watchers by galloping on six of the seven days in the lead-up to the HK$16.5 million event.
Then there is Highland Reel’s tactical versatility, Moore can be anywhere in the run and gate 10 might not be the worst place to assess the situation after jumping from what is a kind starting point in the home straight.
Helene Happy Star and Big Orange look the two most likely candidates to lead if Moore doesn’t want it, with Eastern Express and Anticipation laying up close.
Even though Highland Reel looks bombproof, there is still a quinella to be found, and maybe Japanese mare Nuovo Record (Yasunari Iwata) is the one.
A wide draw will make things awkward for Iwata, but Nuovo Record bounced back to form last start and a second in the 2015 Cup showed she enjoys the Sha Tin surface – something that can’t be said about most European visitors each year.
The locals are usually a non-factor in this race, and they actually look weaker than usual. Still, some of the other visitors may not have gained a run in other years as well – leaving a healthy Highland Reel to stride into history.