Highland Reel retires to stud after attempting to cement an amazing legacy in his third attempt on the HK$18 million Longines Hong Kong Vase on Sunday and he stood out among a record 18 turf gallops at the trackwork session on Thursday morning.
His two previous forays resulted in a brave win as a three-year-old in 2015, and last year’s fighting second at the end of a memorable duel with Japanese star Satono Crown – a battle which left the third horse One Foot In Heaven almost seven lengths in arrears.
Thursday morning at Sha Tin, this truly international galloper was given the honour of leading out his four distinguished Ballydoyle stablemates in their turf gallops – and when Highland Reel is given a job, he never disappoints.
The five-year-old moved off before joining the back stretch of the turf track and increased tempo for the final 800m. From that point he ran the last half mile in 53.0 seconds, the last 400m in 23.6 seconds and the ultimate 200m in 11.43 – all without any apparent effort.
As usual with this tungsten-tough machine, everything went smoothly. His action was good, his recovery was swift and his attitude was, as ever, unflappable.
Regardless of what happens when Highland Reel (Ryan Moore) takes on a splendid field of stayers in the first of Sunday’s showcase races, he is already the greatest prize money earner to have raced in the United Kingdom. His bankroll is £6,441,255 (HK$67.3m) and Sunday’s first prize of HK$10.26 million could add another 15 per cent to that.
It may seem like he is been around for years but in fact, this will be only his 27th start. Of the 26 to date, all but five have been in Group One races, where his record is 21 starts for six wins, four seconds and three thirds.
The Jockey Club also owes Highland Reel a debt of gratitude because he seems to be the horse that convinced trainer Aidan O’Brien to take Hong Kong seriously. This year, the genius of County Tipperary returns with his biggest assault yet on our feature day.
O’Brien, by the way, will be joining his much-admired galloper on a record quest of his own. All the Ballydoyle candidates are seeking to further O’Brien’s record-breaking 2017, in which he dethroned the late Bobby Frankel for the most Group 1 winners in a single year – that tally is now at 27.
Highland Reel aside, Thursday morning’s main course was Japanese and one of their proven big guns, Satono Aladdin, stretched out impressively on the course proper.
The handsome brown (near black) horse whizzed over 800m on the main turf track in 48.6 seconds, opening the turbo in the home straight to clock 21.94 (400m) and 11.13 (final 200m) as his final piece of work for the Hong Kong Mile.
Satono Aladdin seems to have been off his game at his last two starts in Japan, and that can happen to six-year-old stallions. But the trip away and the engagement of Hugh Bowman could see a shift in attitude and an appropriate reward.
Japan’s emerging three-year-old stayer Kiseki, a rival of Highland Reel in the Vase, impressed with his solo piece on the turf. With race rider Mirco Demuro on board, the Rulership colt ran 800m in 52.4, the last 400m in 24 and the final 200m in 11.48.
Time honours for the quickest final 200m of the morning were claimed by Sprint candidate Let’s Go Donki, who stretched out attractively in a startling 10.61 seconds.
The other impressive piece was staged by Staphanos (Cup) and Tosen Basil (Vase), who worked together over 1000m. Staphanos was ridden by Bowman and Tosen Basil by Joao Moreira – they clocked 1:08.3 for the trip, the last 400m in 22.6 and the final 200m in 11.05.