Highland Reel and Seamie Heffernan pulled off a tactical masterpiece to take his rivals apart racing down the back stretch and win the Grade 1 LONGINES Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.
A dozen horses lined-up for traditionally one of the European stronghold races, over 1 ½ miles.
At the break it was Ectot and Ashleyluvssugar who were fast away but soon passed by Highland Reel, who came across from a wide draw to take the rail.
Settling down, Highland Reel bound along in a clear lead from Ectot and Ashleyluvssugar, with Flintshire fourth and then Money Multiplier and that was the order with a circuit to run.
Heading down the back straight, Highland Reel and Seamie Heffernan continued to lead but the pace was not strong, despite his 3 ½ length advantage over Ectot. Halfway down the stretch Heffernan opened up a massive lead and was 8 lengths clear at the top of the stretch, pursued by Flintshire and Ectot.
Highland Reel was gradually reeled in but had far too much in hand, passing the post still a comfortable couple of lengths clear of Flintshire. Found reportedly stumbled from the stalls but stayed on well to finish third and give trainer Aidan O’Brien first and third. The Sir Michael Stoute trained Ulysses ran a commendable race in fourth.
The four year old Highland Reel, had been second to Found in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but revelled in the conditions to give O’Brien a tenth Breeders’ Cup success and a sixth in this race. This was Seamie Heffernan’s first Breeders’ Cup victory.
Heffernan, bagging his first Breeders’ Cup success, said: “I was on a horse that handled the conditions well, the tight track and the fast ground. He is straightforward and is very sound, and he stays hardy.
“If given the choice I’d have ridden Found, it’s nice to be on the team and nice to get the opportunities. I have a lot of people to thank.”
O’Brien – striking at the top level for the 22nd time this year to move within three of the record set by the late Bobby Frankel – said: “Seamie has given this horse a star ride.
“The horse has thrived every month this year, and I would like to mention a big word for David who rides him out at home – he has done an incredible job.
“Nobody knows all the big horses better than Seamie, who is a master of his craft. He is in his early 40s but he is still getting better and nobody deserves it more than him.
“Highland Reel was at his heaviest weight ever, and he looked super special. He knows this horse so incredibly well, he handles the fast ground and he executed it brilliantly.”
On plans for the winner, O’Brien said: “He will stay in training next year and go for all the top middle-distance races on the international spectrum, but he isn’t finished yet this year, as he is in the Japan Cup and a race in Hong Kong.
“The Japan Cup is in three weeks and the Hong Kong race is six weeks away – he could take in one of those or he could possibly do both. We will take him home and see how he is.”
O’Brien confirmed Found would now head for a deserved retirement.
He said: “Ryan was delighted with Found, he wasn’t over-hard on her on her last race before retirement and she has been a great asset to us. She has been a very special mare.”
Part-owner Michael Tabor said: “This track and the ground, everything suited him. This is the race we hoped he’d be able to run in and sometimes it works out.”
Ulysses was fourth for Sir Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori, who teamed up to win the Filly & Mare Turf earlier in the evening with Queen’s Trust.
Alan Cooper, racing manager for owners Flaxman Stables Ireland Limited, said: “We were delighted with the run, because he is essentially a horse to look forward to and he will be bigger and stronger next year.”