Highland Reel leads rivals on merry dance in King George, books Breeders' Cup Turf spot

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July 23rd, 2016

Saturday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot lacked an obvious pacesetter, so the tactically versatile Highland Reel went straight to the lead. And under a pitch-perfect Ryan Moore ride, the Aidan O’Brien trainee held sway throughout to record his third career Grade/Group 1 victory – but first on European soil.

The King George is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), and you’ve got to think that the 1 1/2-mile test at Santa Anita would have been on Highland Reel’s radar regardless. Perhaps less expected, but all the more welcome, is the news that runner-up Wings of Desire and third-placer Dartmouth are also mulling the BC among a range of options.

Of course, Highland Reel has a menu of possibilities himself. Last October, he headed to Australia for the prestigious Cox Plate (G1) and finished third to supermare Winx. But this time, why go back to Moonee Valley’s sharp contours to face Winx again at about 10 furlongs when you’ve established yourself as a top-class operator going 12? That argument becomes all the more forceful knowing that Highland Reel will get his preferred firm turf at Santa Anita. And although it’s not a conclusive verdict, he did beat Flintshire in last December’s Hong Kong Vase (G1).

O’Brien’s initial post-race comments didn’t give a firm game plan, but in the updated Racing Post recap, the maestro of Ballydoyle sounded more definitive about the Breeders’ Cup:

“We have lots of different options for different horses - Minding is going to Goodwood - and Highland Reel would definitely have the Breeders' Cup Turf over a mile and half later in the season on fast ground.”

Although just edged by Dartmouth in the June 18 Hardwicke (G2) over the King George course and distance, Highland Reel was dispatched as the 13-8 favorite to exact revenge on Saturday. (See the case for Highland Reel here.) The son of Galileo broke alertly and waltzed to the lead. As they descended to Swinley Bottom, Moore craftily used it to his advantage and let Highland Reel open up while gravity was assisting him. Then he dialed it back and steadied the tempo again.

Frankie Dettori knew exactly what Moore was doing, and nudged Wings of Desire into a close stalking second. Dartmouth, in contrast, was further back in the pack, and The Queen surely realized that the race wasn’t unfolding to suit her runner.

At the top of the straight, Wings of Desire challenged Highland Reel, who was spotting his sophomore rival a hefty 12 pounds. Yet even that wasn’t enough to anchor Highland Reel, and the enthusiastic globetrotter kept galloping all the way to the line. The 1 1/4-length winner covered 1 1/2 miles on a good-to-firm course in 2:28.97.

Wings of Desire, last seen finishing fourth in the Derby (G1), represented the classic form well by finishing a clear second. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that John Gosden would pitch the still-learning colt into the Breeders’ Cup at this stage of his career, but owner/breeder Lady Bamford may be inclined in that direction. Her racing manager, Hugo Lascelles, mentioned that they would “think about the Breeders’ Cup.”

Dartmouth did his best work late for third, and The Queen’s racing manager, John Warren, also included the Breeders’ Cup as a possibility:

“I’ve a notion that he might be an international traveler. He loves that fast ground so there is the Breeders' Cup, Australia and Japan.”

If I had to guess at this point, Dartmouth’s road map might well point to Australia, partly because of the Commonwealth angle, and mainly because something like the Caulfield Cup (G1) might suit him a little better.

O’Brien’s second stringer, Sir Isaac Newton, wound up fourth in his first attempt at the 1 1/2-mile trip. Look for him to cut back to his wheelhouse – 1 1/4 miles – next time. An American foray has already been discussed, and the August 13 Arlington Million (G1) would be the obvious spot.

The Million would also be a sensible objective for Highland Reel, since he aired in the Secretariat over the same course and distance last summer. With sophomore stablemate US Army Ranger targeting the August 17 Juddmonte International (G1), Highland Reel may go on his travels sooner rather than later. Or perhaps he’ll be prepared with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) in mind en route to the Breeders’ Cup. No shortage of paths for a horse of his aptitudes.

One presumably with the Arc on his agenda is French-based Erupt, who briefly loomed in the King George before retreating to fifth, beating only longshots Western Hymn and Second Step.

On the King George undercard, the legendary Frankel celebrated his first black-type winner when Fair Eva demolished them in the Princess Margaret (G3). A Juddmonte homebred like her sire, the odds-on favorite traveled like a dream and bolted clear inside the sixth and final furlong to win going way by four lengths from Kilmah. Not only did she thrash the Duchess of Cambridge (G2) form (in which Kilmah had been a close fourth), but Fair Eva also clocked a fast 1:12.54.

“We had huge expectations for her – it's so exciting,” racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said. “Form is one thing, class is another, and she really showed that.

“The Lowther ([G2] August 18 at York) would be an option, we'd also look at something like the Moyglare ([G1] September 11 at the Curragh. We'll find her a schedule that makes her the best that she can be.”

Now a perfect two-for-two, the Roger Charlton trainee is the clear-cut favorite for next spring’s 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket. Fair Eva is out of Group 1-winning sprinter African Rose, so a mile could end up being her trip.

The Juddmonte/Charlton team scored a Group double when Time Test ground out a workmanlike decision over Mondialiste in the York (G2) up north. Cruising on the bridle as a 1-2 favorite should, the son of Dubawi suddenly had to scramble as Mondialiste served it up to him. But Time Test responded to Pat Smullen’s urgings and prevailed by three-quarters of a length. While that should set him up well for York’s Juddmonte International over the same about 10-furlong trip, Time Test may have to find a bit more to achieve a Group 1 laurel.

Mondialiste, well known to North American fans as the winner of the Woodbine Mile (G1) and best of the rest behind Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), was returning to top form for the first time this season. He’s clearly fond of York, since he’d scored his first Group victory over the Knavesmire in the Strensall (G3) last August.

Photos courtesy of Ascot Racecourse via Twitter