Secretariat scouting report: Highland Reel
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Highland Reel will try to follow in the hoofsteps of his former stablemate, Adelaide -- not only by taking the Secretariat (G1), but by plundering Australia's famed Cox Plate (G1) at Moonee Valley October 24.
Highland Reel, also by Galileo, has been campaigned at a higher level than Adelaide was at this point. Adelaide didn't test European Group 1 waters, while Highland Reel has competed in three classics and considered (at least briefly) tackling a fourth.
Coming to hand earlier than Adelaide as a juvenile, Highland Reel broke his maiden by 12 lengths at Gowran last summer. He was pitched straight into the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, where he stretched clear convincingly.
Highland Reel wasn't seen again until this season, when finishing sixth in the French 2000 Guineas (G1) over a metric mile. He improved off that tightener in his next foray to the French Derby (G1), his first try at about 10 1/2 furlongs. Appearing one-paced for a time, he nevertheless found plenty under pressure and stayed on well for second to New Bay, who set a race record in the process. Highland Reel is in the bluish/purplish silks with white stripes, about midpack early on the outside:
Given how he looked there, it made sense to give Highland Reel a shot at the 1 1/2-mile Irish Derby (G1). Ryan Moore chose him from O'Brien's quartet, and he duly went off as the 11-4 second choice. But Highland Reel never looked like getting involved and wound up fifth.
Class relief was prescribed, and Highland Reel dropped down to a Group 3 for the 1 1/2-mile Gordon (G3) back at Glorious Goodwood. Despite scrimmaging with an opponent for a seam, and thereby conceding first run to Scottish, Highland Reel asserted himself to win going away. He wandered around a bit while overhauling Scottish, prompting O'Brien to worry that 1 1/2 miles was his limit.
(Apologies for not finding a replay that would embed, but the stretch run of the Gordon is available at this link.)
I never saw him as a real candidate for the St Leger (G1) over an extended 1 3/4 miles, and connections didn't entertain it for long either.
The Secretariat's 1 1/4 miles may be his optimal trip, and a quicker surface should also help him find his gears more readily.
But note that O'Brien doesn't regard him as the finished article just yet:
"He is still a bit babyish and will be one for next year," the trainer said after his Gordon victory. "He lives on his nerves a bit -- he's a free sweater -- but he is getting better. He relaxed early today and had a lovely position but then when the other horse started closing in he had to be strong to hold his position and that can be tough on a horse, take a lot out of him.
"We were just afraid of the energy he could have lost by holding his position but he's a hardy type and he was brave."
Highland Reel has an outstanding pedigree, even by Ballydoyle's lofty standards. He is out of the Danehill mare Hveger, making him a half-brother to VRC Oaks (G1) runner-up Valdemoro.
Hveger is herself a Group 1-placed full sister to Australian superstar and Dubai Duty Free (G1) hero Elvstroem. Hveger is also a half-sister to Australian champion Haradasun, who later joined O'Brien and lifted the Queen Anne (G1). Highland Reel's second dam, Circles of Gold, won the AJC Australian Oaks (G1). Another family member is Starspangledbanner, a champion sprinter in both Australia and Europe (after joining O'Brien).
Photo courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.