Highland Reel swept to a wire-to-wire victory in the $4 million Turf at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, giving Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien an 11th Breeders’ Cup victory but his first of 2016.
Jockey Seamus Heffernan’s bold ride paid off with a first Breeders’ Cup victory ahead of Flintshire and defending champion Found.
The O’Brien-trained Found had beaten Highland Reel across the line at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last month, but it was her stablemate who found the going to his liking on the sunbaked turf course in California.
Highland Reel led the field down the hill from the starting gate, notching a quick 48 seconds for the first half-mile.
The winner of the King George VI Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot extended his lead on the backstretch, opening a gap of eight lengths that his rivals were finally unable to close.
“He’s the type of horse that’s brave in front,” Heffernan said. “And when he wants to go, you let him go and he turns it on.
“I thought there were a few horses that were going to come from the back and come quick. So if I was going, I wanted to go early.”
Flintshire jockey Javier Castellano seemed to be taken by surprise.
“He tried to steal the race and he stole it,” said Castellano, whose mount was sent off as the 9-5 favorite but finished 1 3/4 lengths behind.
“Usually you don’t see the European horses run so aggressively, open up and carry their speed,” Castellano added, “especially at 1 1/2 miles — but it worked out great for him.”
Flintshire trainer Chad Brown said there was nothing Castellano could have done on the day.
“The course is very, very firm and when you have a classy horse (Highland Reel) like that alone on the lead, it’s dangerous,” Brown said. “We had no excuses.”
Found, ridden by Ryan Moore, recovered well from an awkward start but even running well at the end never looked like challenging Highland Reel.
Heffernan said Moore had told him before the race that it could well be Highland Reel’s day.
“Ryan Moore told me it was his best chance on this track the way the ground was,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I was given the chance, I’d want it to be firm, but Ryan was right.”
O’Brien’s sixth Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph was his 22nd Group or Grade One win in what has been a remarkable 2016 campaign.
© 2016 AFP