12/10/2017 7:57AM

Highland Reel's race career ends with storybook HK Vase win

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Highland Reel wins the Hong Kong Vase for the second time in his career Sunday.

HONG KONG – Storybook endings don’t come often in horseracing, but Highland Reel wrote one Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse in the Group 1, $2.3 million Hong Kong Vase.

Making his final start, Highland Reel flicked away a midstretch challenge from Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic and added a second Vase victory to his 2015 win.

Highland Reel came under a ride from Ryan Moore about 500 yards out, and as Talismanic and Tosen Basil closed on him before the 200-meter mark, the Sha Tin announcer sensed an upset, calling out “He’s vulnerable!” Barely had those words echoed through the gathered Sha Tin throng than Highland Reel did what he has so often done, beating back his rivals with a brave finish.

“He’s the sort of horse once he gets into a fight, you know, if he’s in a fight long enough he’s probably going to prevail,” Moore said. “He just dug in the last furlong and then at the line I thought he was going away.”

He was going away. Highland Reel, basically on even terms with Talismanic a furlong out, won by 1 3/4 lengths. Tosen Basil, who loomed large 300 yards from the finish, also flattened late and finished third, three-quarters of a length behind the winner.

Highland Reel, who paid $6.30 in North America, was making his fourth start in Hong Kong and avenged a tough second-place finish in last year’s Vase following a protracted speed duel.

As has been the case throughout his career, 5-year-old Highland Reel has spent much of this fall on a plane. He traveled to Ascot from Ireland and finished third Oct. 21 in the Champion Stakes, then flew to Del Mar and finished third, beaten less than a length, in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Turf, a race he won in 2016. In all, Highland Reel has shipped more than 113,000 miles during his four-season career, and rarely has it seemed to affect him. 

“He’s a very special horse, irreplaceable,” said trainer Aidan O’Brien, who extended his world record of Group I wins in a year to 28. “It’s very rarely you get a horse that can travel like him. He’s been doing it since he was a 2-year-old. He’s an incredible horse, really.”

Incredibly successful, too. Highland Reel, a 5-year-old son of Galileo and the Danehill Dancer mare Hveger, goes off to stud a seven-time Grade or Group 1 winner with an overall mark of 27-10-6-3. He added $1,313,230 to his career earnings Sunday and is retired with a bankroll of $10,551,173. Racing for Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor, Highland Reel got his final 800 meters in a fine 46.71 seconds and was timed in 2:26.53 for the 2400 meters on good going.

Highland Reel often has led, but Moore was in no hurry to make the front Sunday as Helene Charisma was asked to go and set splits of 25.66 for the first 400 meters, 49.98 for 800 meters, and 1:15.78 for 1200 meters, by which point pace-tracking Highland Reel had come up to his flank. Those two ran as a pair around the turn as Talismanic, who broke on top under Maxime Guyon, loped along getting a perfect trip in third.

Moore got busy on Highland Reel before the top of the 430-meter homestretch as Guyon, tracking Highland Reel’s every move, sat chilly on Talismanic. Talismanic appeared to be going the better of the two – but appearances can be deceiving. Just as Talismanic neared the lead, Highland Reel, outfinished by Talismanic in the BC Turf, put the challenger in his place.

“I know my horse has just a short turn of foot, so that’s why I preferred to wait a little bit,” Guyon said.  “When I quickened he got very strong, but maybe he stopped a little bit at the end. That’s why he won in the Breeders’ Cup, because the finish line is a little closer.”

Tosen Basil ran to his excellent appearance this week but he, too, was found wanting late.

“I gave them a challenge in the straight, but they were too good,” jockey Joao Moreira said.

Highland Reel, emphasizing the point in his career finale, has proved too good for most.