Irish horseman Aidan O’Brien is warming to a second trip down under with last year’s Cox Plate third-placegetter Highland Reel who ran second in this week’s Juddmonte International Stakes.
The son of Galileo travelled to Melbourne last spring and made his Australian debut in the $3 million Group 1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) where he chased home Winx and Criterion to finish third in the weight-for-age classic.
O’Brien has the globetrotting stallion nominated for another shot at the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racecourse on October 22, with the champ also among the entries for the $3 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) the Saturday before over the mile and a half.
After his stellar Cox Plate performance last season Highland Reel travelled to Sha Tin and won the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) in December.
He has had five subsequent runs including a win in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2012m) at Ascot on July 23.
The horse had his latest run on Wednesday (Australian time) with Seamie Heffernan coming aboard for Ryan Moore for the ride in York’s Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes (2011m).
Heffernan tracked the leader – pacemaker King Bolete – into the race, keeping the pressure on to give the galloper every chance inside the final 200m.
Highland Reel was held towards the finish however eventually crossing one and a quarter lengths away second behind the favourite Postponed who flew home with Andrea Atzeni in the saddle over the final 600m.
O’Brien was pleased with the performance and said there was every chance the horse would travel back to Australia for the spring on the back of one more run overseas.
“I’d say he’ll travel plenty, he loves it,” O’Brien told the media after the International Stakes.
“He’s still progressing this horse; he’s getting physically stronger all the time. He always gives 100 per cent, he’s very versatile. He handles soft as well but faster ground is probably best.
“He’s [entered] in Australia; he’s in all the races down there.
“He’s got a lot of options and if he runs down in Australia he would have to run somewhere before that, possibly something like the Irish Champion Stakes but there’s also a race in America, the Sword Dancer [Saratoga], he could run in.
“He could do the quarantine at home in Ireland.”
Last season Highland Reel won the Group 1 Arlington Secretariat Stakes (2012m) in the USA before a fifth in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes (2012m) behind Golden Horn in the lead-up to the Cox Plate.
Futures Cox Plate odds at Ladbrokes.com.au are firmly led by the defending winner Winx ($2.70) who makes her new season debut this Saturday in Sydney’s Group 2 Warwick Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick.
Highland Reel occupies the second line of all-in Cox Plate betting at $15.
He is also being kept safe in early Caulfield Cup markets with a decision pending on which race to target.
O’Brien made history two years ago with his then Irish-trained stallion Adelaide (2014) winning the Cox Plate, the first Northern Hemisphere-trained horse to do so.
The champion horseman is yet to saddle-up a starter in a Caulfield Cup field.
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