12/06/2017 12:10PM

World traveler Highland Reel set for final start

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Hong Kong Jockey Club
Highland Reel trains Tuesday at Sha Tin in preparation for a start in the Hong Kong Vase.

HONG KONG – The strange thing is that he still sweats.

After all this travel, so many countries and a panoply of racecourses, how could Highland Reel still get worked up when he first goes out to train after shipping from his home base at Ballydoyle, County Tipperary, Ireland? Is it nerves? Force of habit? Highland Reel is a notorious heavy sweater. Perhaps he is just reminding the cadre of international photographers and any assembled locals out for a peek, “I’m here!”

Surely this week, walking over from the international quarantine area to gallop around the dirt track at Sha Tin Racecourse, Highland Reel knew what was up. He has come here from Ireland not once or twice, or even three times, but on four different occasions. What Highland Reel assuredly does not know is that this is it. One last trip, one last race – on Sunday in the Hong Kong Vase – and Highland Reel’s career is expected to migrate from racehorse to stud horse.

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What an unusual career it has been, to say nothing of productive or daring. Somehow, trainer Aidan O’Brien figured out early on that Highland Reel was a horse that could travel, and travel he has. Highland Reel made his debut in June 2014 and has raced 29 times. Of those 29 starts, 20 required a ship of several hundred miles, often more. Besides his four Hong Kong adventures (he won the Vase in 2015 and finished a tough-luck second in the race last year), he went to Australia for the Cox Plate in 2015 and has twice been to California to start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, winning the thing last year and finishing a close third last month at Del Mar. Highland Reel twice has shipped to Dubai, and trips to France and England must feel like a walk across the parking lot.

Since you asked, Highland Reel has shipped more than 113,000 miles to run in races. Suffice it to say, he has made himself useful during those trips – his career earnings stand at more than $9.2 million, among the most a European-based horse ever has won, and a Vase victory will make Highland Reel a $10 million animal.

“He takes his racing very well, and he takes his traveling very well,” jockey Ryan Moore said Tuesday. “He’s just a very durable, very solid horse. The kind of track doesn’t bother him. He adapts.”

For his next adaptation, Highland Reel must learn to stay in one place for an extended period. Though if ever there was a horse cut out to be a stallion shuttling between hemispheres and breeding seasons, it is Highland Reel.

Purton wins Jockey Challenge

Hong Kong-based Zac Purton won the Longines International Jockey’s Challenge on Wednesday night at Happy Valley Racecourse, beating 11 other jockeys to cash a $64,000 first prize.

It was feast or famine for Purton, who won two of the four races in the Jockey Challenge series but earned no points in the two other races. Wins were worth 12 points, seconds 6 points, and thirds 4 points through the IJC scoring protocol.

Jockey Silvestre de Sousa was second with 18. Pierre-Charles Boudot was third with 16 points, while the American representative, France-born Flavien Prat, got on the board with a second-place finish on Imperial Gallantry in race 8, which followed races 7, 5, and 4 as the four encompassed by the jockey challenge.

Purton won race 4 by a nose with favored Our Hero, after which de Sousa, who was on the narrowly beaten runner-up in race 4, captured race 5 with another favorite, Peace Combination. Purton struck again in race 7, winning easily on 7-1 chance Let’s Take It Easy. His mount in race 8 beat but one horse home, but Purton already had done enough to wear the crown Wednesday.

The Tin Man out, Kiseki still in

The Tin Man got a shipping fever after traveling to Hong Kong from England and on Tuesday was withdrawn from the Hong Kong Sprint.

Meanwhile, the other international shipper here in Hong Kong with a known physical problem, the Japanese 3-year-old Kiseki, did not look like a horse whose body was bothering him when he went through a spirited gallop on the Sha Tin dirt track Wednesday morning.

Kiseki was diagnosed Monday with ringworm, and the first concern from Hong Kong racing officials was isolating the horse to minimize the chance of the contagious condition spreading through the international quarantine facility. The question is whether Kiseki just contracted a still-active case of ringworm, or if he has been afflicted with the condition long enough that the worst has passed. From all appearances Wednesday, Kiseki is doing just fine.

Whether he is good enough for or even especially suits Sunday’s Vase is another question. The 2,400-meter race, headed by Highland Reel and Talismanic, is as deep as any of the four Group 1’s on Sundays card, and Kiseki’s lone Group 1 success came Oct. 22 in the Kikuka Sho, a 3,000-meter, 3-year-old-restricted race that was contested over soft going. The turf at Sha Tin will be far faster, but on the other hand, Kiseki is a progressive, lightly raced horse whose ceiling is unknown. It is looking, despite his medical condition, like that could become clearer in a couple days.

Prat gets ban for careless riding

Flavien Prat was suspended for the race meetings here in Hong Kong on Dec. 13 and Dec. 17 for careless riding Wednesday night at Happy Valley.

According to Hong Kong Jockey Club officials, the suspension will be effective through Dec. 17 in the United States. Prat is based in California and was in Hong Kong as part of the International Jockeys Challenge. HKJC stewards suspended him for careless riding in race 8, where Prat’s mount, second-place finisher Imperial Gallantry, impeded the progress of third-place Litterateur near the finish. No disqualification was made in the race.