Highland Reel stole the $4 million 2016 Breeder’s Cup Turf in style from the front, leaving the star-studded chasing pack wondering where he had gone turning into the stretch at Santa Anita on November 5. Trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, the four-year-old Highland Reel had built up such a lead that he could be gently coaxed to the wire by Seamie Heffernan (pictured).
In contrast Javier Castellano had to ride the 2/1 favorite Flintshire pretty hard to close on the winner and was beaten more easily than the distance of two lengths suggests. Castellano had made the fatal and unfortunate mistake of thinking that Highland Reel was only a pacesetter for his stablemate Found, who won this race at Keeneland in 2015.
Castellano must have been unaware that Highland Reel had beaten Flintshire in the Hong Kong Vase in December and had won the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. The winner’s odds of 7/2 in the betting with the USA online sportsbooks was another clue that he had a big chance.
The 11/4 second favorite Found finished strongly two lengths behind Flintshire. Another European shipper, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained three-year-old colt Ulysses (10/1), took fourth beating the prominently ridden 40/1 long shot Ashleyluvssugar a head.
It was a world class ride from Heffernan that prompted praise from the Galileo colt’s owners, the Magniers, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. The same tactics had worked really well a number of times on Highland Reel in top level races and Heffernan, the stable’s second jockey, had been asked to use them again. He executed the strategy with such finesse that he made some of his rivals look like fools.
Starting from the outside stall, two wide of the stable’s more fancied runner Found, did not appear to be an auspicious beginning. Highland Reel jumped well and easily galloped past the momentary leader Ectot and Ashleyluvssugar to take the lead by the first turn.
It was a less promising start for Found. She stumbled onto her knuckles under Ryan Moore leaving the gates, ruining any chance of tracking across down the hill and taking a good position. That loss of momentum allowed the pack to get ahead and she was caught two wide with only one horse behind her by the first turn.
Highland Reel settled well in front, enjoying his uncontested lead of about a length over Ectot who was ridden tight to the rail behind him by Jose Ortiz. Castellano employed similar tactics to save ground on Flintshire in fifth with his stablemate Money Multiplier just wide of him.
After the first quarter Found was 15 lengths behind the leader who had set a steady tempo of 24.83 causing more than one runner in the pack to test their jockeys’ arm strength. Flintshire had wasted energy pulling early on, as well as Found and Ulysses. Fortunately most of the field had settled after the first half mile despite the relaxed pace of 48.00.
The order was pretty much the same after an easy ¾ mile at 1:12.70. Ectot was a length and a half off the lead with the pink colours of Ashleyluvssugar outside him in third. Flintshire was still saving ground in fourth, just ahead of Money Multiplier. Twilight Eclipse raced behind Chad Brown’s pair whilst Found remained way back on the outside of the UK-trained Mondialiste with only two horses behind her.
Having steadied the pack from the front, Heffernan allowed Highland Reel to use his trademark high cruising speed before they had even covered a mile in 1:36.16. If the jockeys behind had been watching him closely they would have not have seen him move. Heffernan merely let Highland Reel stride out a little faster into a lead of eight lengths.
Ortiz and Gary Stevens on Ashleyluvssugar had the best view of the move but did not appear to react to the opening of a chasm in front of them. It was only when Heffernan was going round the turn into the stretch that he started visibly pushing Highland Reel with his hands and heels. Chad Brown said after the race that it was disappointing that nobody chose to chase the winner when he first ran clear, realizing that it was a big mistake to let such a good horse get away.
The leader was at least nine lengths clear at the two pole when a chain reaction finally began in the pursuing pack. Castellano must have noticed that the leader was not coming back to him. He started asking Flintshire to quicken round the final bend.
One man who fully appreciated the talent of Highland Reel was Ryan Moore on Found. He had been weaving his way through the field approaching the turn and when Castellano angled out on Flintshire to get past Ectot, Moore was able to squeeze into the vacant space behind Ectot on the rail.
Meanwhile everything was going extremely well for Highland Reel. Having had an easy time out in front he had enough gas in the tank to maintain a good gallop and reach his destination in style. Heffernan gave him two slaps with the whip and made no further contact with it, knowing that he was not going to get caught on the wire.
Moore was pretty gentle when he finally emerged from the pack on Found, aware that third place was the best position his filly could possibly achieve. Ulysses had started slowly too and was forced to race buried in the mid pack but stayed on gamely under Frankie Dettori to beat Ashleyluvssugar and take fourth. The 100/1 shot Texas Ryano kept on well to dead-heat with Money Multiplier for sixth place.
Mondialiste, the only European-based horse who failed to gain a place, finished last. His trainer David O’Meara has staged successful raids in the past but had no luck at all at Santa Anita. His other horse Suedois, entered for the Turf Sprint, was injured during a piece of work and had to be withdrawn.
The winning trainer Aidan O’Brien was delighted with his two horses’ performances. He strongly believes that the offspring of Galileo are not only great athletes but incredibly determined and genuine. They certainly showed it at Santa Anita. Flintshire, a son of Dansili, was the only horse in the first four who was not by Galileo.
The four-year-old filly Found and the six-year-old Flintshire are both set for new careers in the breeding shed but Highland Reel is aiming to defend his title in the Hong Kong Vase. If he is left to run loose in the lead again it could be a cinch.