Last year’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel simply refused to be beaten in the Prince of Wales's Stakes June 21, the feature of the second day of Royal Ascot and richest race of the meeting at about $950,000.
The 5-year-old son of Galileo, a top-level competitor worldwide, stalked the early pace, then willingly moved to the lead as the field turned for home in the 1 ¼-mile turf stakes.
Before he could press the advantage, however, jockey Ryan Moore found both Decorated Knight and Ulysses right alongside, bidding to put him away. Under strong encouragement, Highland Reel found more and edged clear to win by 1 ¼ lengths. Final time was 2:05.04.
Decorated Knight finished second by a head over Ulysses, who finished fourth in the Longines Turf last fall at Santa Anita Park. Queen’s Trust, who won last year's Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, finished fourth, and Jack Hobbs, the Godolphin runner who won the Dubai Sheema Classic in his previous outing, finished last of eight in the Prince of Wales's.
Highland Reel started his 5-year-old season with a fading seventh-place finish in the Sheema Classic on World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse. But that was over yielding turf after torrential rains came to the desert in the week leading up to the race. Back on good ground, he won the Coronation Cup at Epsom in preparation for Royal Ascot.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien said throughout his preparations after Dubai, his star "was getting better – an incredible horse. He's so brave."
"He has passed every test that you would want a Thoroughbred to go through," the trainer added. "His first group race was as a 2-year-old and we have toured the world with him since then. Every time, he turns up in big races over a mile, 10 furlongs, and 12 furlongs; he has a great mind and has passed all the tests everywhere he goes.
"He is an amazing horse. He stays and is incredibly brave. Ryan asked for courage and he gave it. He is like his sire Galileo, because he also had so much courage and he has passed it on to Highland Reel tenfold."
Galileo, in fact, sired the top three finishers in the race.
"He just keeps showing up," Moore added. "I'd say it was probably a career-best from him today."
The victory stirred hopes Highland Reel might again visit Australia in the fall for a return engagement in the William Hill Cox Plate. He was third in that race two years ago behind Aussie superstar mare Winx.
In the shorter term, O'Brien said, Highland Reel is likely to try for a repeat win back at Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He improved to nine wins from 23 starts with his victory in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, with earnings of nearly $8.6 million. In addition to the 2015 Longines Turf, Highland Reel won the 2015 Secretariat Stakes as a 3-year-old at Arlington Park’s International Festival of Racing. – Bob Kieckhefer