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Irish horseman Aidan O’Brien confirmed the team were considering a Cox Plate 2016 bid down under for last year’s third-placegetter Highland Reel after his smart Group 1 win in the UK over the weekend.
Last Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival the Galileo stallion travelled to Australia and caught the eye with a third to Chris Waller’s champion mare Winx in the $3 million Group 1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m).
The classic Moonee Valley weight-for-age feature, run this season on October 22, is again being considered by O’Brien and connections of Highland Reel.
The horse could also be suited to the extra metres of the earlier $3 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) in Melbourne on October 15 according to Racing Victoria’s international talent scout Leigh Jordon.
First-up this campaign Highland Reel ran second to The Queen Elizabeth II-owned Dartmouth in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes (2414m).
He went one better on Saturday, returning to Ascot Racecourse for a smart one and a quarter-length victory as the punters’ pick in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes over the same distance.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Dartmouth, who could also be Melbourne-bound for a Spring Cups bid this season including a shot at the $6 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 1, ran third to Highland Reel on Saturday.
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes result provided O’Brien with a fourth win in the classic and he was quick to credit the front-running ride by jockey Ryan Moore.
“Ryan has given him a lovely ride and the horse has been progressing all of the time,” the master horseman said post-win.
Moore also rode O’Brien’s earlier Cox Plate winner Adelaide (2014) to victory in Australia as well as the Andreas Wohler-trained German raider Protectionist for his success in that year’s Melbourne Cup, and was full of post-race praise for Highland Reel on the weekend.
“He is a very good horse – he won in both America and Hong Kong last year, and he started this year in Dubai and things did not work out for him there,” Moore told the media.
“It is a marvellous achievement for Aidan to get him back in this shape to win this sort of race.
“He had a very tough campaign last year and is a very tough horse.
“He is a professional and hits the gates well. He has been to both Hong Kong and Australia and he knows how to race.
“The ground last time was against him and it was his first run of the campaign back in the UK and he just got tired.
“The ground is key to him and we saw what he was capable of in Hong Kong last year when he beat Flintshire on fast ground.”
O’Brien now weighing up next Group 1 options for the Coolmore Stud-owned Highland Reel who is a true international performer having also won last December’s Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) before a trip to Dubai this autumn gone.
“He is an incredible horse and has travelled the world. He loves travelling and the great thing is he is getting better and better, which is amazing,” he said.
“He is developing physically and mentally, he is solid as a rock.
“He loves fast ground and while he ran a great race here on soft, it is fast ground that he really loves.
“He can go any place in the world now with Japan, Hong Kong, America and Australia all options.
“He is an amazing horse and we have the Breeders’ Cup Turf [in the USA in early November] and the Cox Plate again to consider.”
Currently Highland Reel pays $26 in the pre-nomination Cox Plate odds at Ladbrokes.com.au that are firmly led by the reigning champ Winx ($2.80) and is at the same price in futures Caulfield Cup betting.
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