Highland Reel heats up Ascot for Aidan O’Brien at last

Pressure was on the Ballydoyle team to deliver a winner and they took the biggest of all

Ryan Moore rides Highland Reel (purple) to win The Prince of Wales’s Stakes during day tw of Royal Ascot. Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse

Ryan Moore rides Highland Reel (purple) to win The Prince of Wales’s Stakes during day tw of Royal Ascot. Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse

 

It took longer than anticipated for Aidan O’Brien to get off the mark for Royal Ascot 2017 but Highland Reel proved once again he’s the horse to rely on in a pinch with a sixth career Group One victory in Wednesday’s Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.

The 9-4 winner rallied in typically gutsy style to beat Decorated Knight and Ulysses on the hottest June day at Ascot for forty years.

And it prompted the sort of reaction from some racing’s coolest professional which indicates Highland Reel has secured a singularly sentimental spot in the affections of the Coolmore bloodstock empire.

“He has such a marvellous attitude, been everywhere and keeps coming back. He’s so brave and I’d say that’s a career best,” smiled an effusive Ryan Moore. O’Brien chipped in: “An incredible horse. He has pace, courage, tactical speed, just a brilliant horse.”

That Churchill’s dramatic eclipse in the St James’s Palace Stakes coincided with a Godolphin hat-trick on day one meant the pressure was on the Ballydoyle team. However top-flight victories in three continents had already confirmed Highland Reel is always one to have on your side in a scrap.

With the Godolphin favourite Jack Hobbs fading to last, the Irish star earned 5-4 quotes to go back to Ascot next month and successfully defend his King George title.

Earlier O’Brien had had to settle for the runner up spot when his 66-1 outsider Spirit Of Valor found only the 2-1 French favourite Le Brivido too good in the Jersey Stakes and he was second again in the concluding Sandringham Handicap as the gambled-on Rain Goddess was nabbed by Con Te Partiro.

The 20-1 winner scored for American trainer Wes Ward who’d earlier been foiled in the Queen Mary as Heartache beat the odds-on Happy Like A Fool.

Last year O’Brien emerged from the first two days with a single winner and still wound up with a record-equalling Royal Ascot tally of seven.

With Order Of St George in the Gold Cup, and two outstanding Group One Friday favourites in Winter and Caravaggio, the potential for another resounding finale to the most exclusive week of the racing year is obvious.

Highland Reel however will be hard to dislodge from the trainer’s affections, not least for having become O’Brien’s 300th top-flight winner over jumps and on the flat.

“He has been racing at the top level for the last few years and he’s just amazing,” O’Brien said. “We always thought the world because he’s always been a natural, brilliant athlete.”

The French were also on the mark as the 5-2 favourite Qemah won the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes to win at Royal Ascot for a second year in a row.

The 2016 Coronation Stakes winner will go next for the Prix Rotschchild at Deauville and trainer Jean Claude Rouget also has another crack at Leopardstown’s Matron Stakes in September for Qemah.

Derby winning jockey Martin Dwyer served up a tactical master-class from the front as the 25-1 Zhui Feng made virtually all to land the Royal Hunt Cup.

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