Newcomers Series: Highland Reel

Twenty seven starts, 10 wins, and nine other placings for £7,513,355 (€8,544,938.64/$10,066,918.96 on Dec. 12, 2017) in earnings. In very short terms that sums up the career of Highland Reel, Coolmore Ireland’s newest stallion, but misses many details.

Highland Reel
The son of Galileo has been a literal world traveler, traveling over 110,000 miles and visiting four continents (Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia) to race in seven different countries during his 3 ½ year career. In that time, Highland Reel won nine group stakes races (seven Group 1s) and finished second or third in eight others, including a French classic and the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, to become the highest earning Thoroughbred racehorse in European history.

Highland Reel’s first success at stakes level came just three starts into his career when he ran in the Group 2 Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes, making easy work of the field when winning by 2 ¼ lengths. After a 284 day break, Highland Reel returned to the races and finished sixth in his 3-year-old debut. He was back again a few weeks later for the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, finishing second to New Bay (Dubawi) to get a classic placing on his resume.

After winning a Group 3 two starts later, connections decided to send Highland Reel to the United States for his first trip outside Europe. Ironically, for a horse who would prove to dislike the softer ground rain brought in the future, Highland Reel’s first Grade/Group 1 win came in a wannabe hurricane when a storm hit Arlington Park in Chicago, Ill. minutes before his run in the Secretariat Stakes. Running against six others, Highland Reel romped from gate to wire to beat the field by an easy 5 ¼ lengths. 

Secretariat Stakes
After an off-the-board run in an Irish Group 1, Highland Reel again jumped on a flight across an ocean to take on the best in Australia in the Group 1 William Hill Cox Plate. In that race he ran into a mare named Winx (Street Cry), who was just four races into her winning streak, and multiple Group 1 winner Criterion (Sebring) among a field full of other Group 1 winners. Ultimately, Highland Reel announced himself on the international stage when finishing third. Traveling on to Hong Kong in December, the Hong Kong Vase was his next target, and one that paid off as he beat the highly regarded Flintshire (Dansili) to become the first 3-year-old to win the Vase.

It was obvious at that point that Highland Reel was one to watch.

Highland Reel’s 4-year-old season didn’t get off to the best start. The horse’s weak point in his career seemed to be Meydan Racecourse in Dubai where he finished fourth by 4 ¼ lengths in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic. He then ran into a wet track, something he never really enjoyed, when going back to Hong Kong for the Group 1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup and finished eighth.

Returning back to Europe, Highland Reel lost by a slim margin to Dartmouth (Dubawi) but his first big win in Europe would come only one start later.

Taking on a small field of six others, Highland Reel wasn’t going to give anyone the opportunity to deny him a Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory. He charged straight to the lead from the gate and led the field all the way in the 1 ½ mile race to beat Wings of Desire (Pivotal) by 1 ¼ lengths.

A close second in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes helped state Highland Reel’s case for running in the Group 1 Qatar  Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe even after a seventh in his second Irish Champion Stakes. Highland Reel helped make history for both his sire Galileo and trainer Aidan O’Brien in the Arc when finishing second to stablemate Found (Galileo) by playing a part in the Galileo/O’Brien trifecta. He got his revenge on Found a month later when winning the Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf thanks to a masterful ride by Seamie Heffernan to give him his fourth career Group 1 win.


Traveling back to Hong Kong in December, it looked like Highland Reel would win his second Vase most of the stretch when opening up a few lengths on the field but with only a few meters left until the wire, he was headed by Japan’s Satono Crown (Marju) to lose the race by half length.

Instead of pulling the plug on his racing career and adding him to the stallion roster, Coolmore kept Highland Reel in work for one more year. It started off a little dicey when he finished last in the Dubai Sheema Classic (over yielding ground) in his first start of the season but paid off for the operation with a 1 ¾ length victory of Frontiersman (Dubawi) in the Group 1 Investec Coronation Cup in June, followed by a 1 ¼ length victory in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes later that month. 


Running into superfilly Enable (Nathaniel) and good to soft ground proved to be his undoing when finishing fourth in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, with Ulysses (Galileo) and Highland Reel’s full brother Idaho finishing between him and the winner. Ground was again a concern in the QIPCO Champion Stakes but this time he was able to finish third after Ryan Moore took him wide to search for firmer ground on the track to help him out.

A third place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf seemed like it may be Highland Reel’s swan song but the connections then sent him back to Hong Kong for one last run in the Vase.

In perhaps the gutsiest race of his career, Highland Reel looked beaten in the stretch when Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic (Medaglia d’Oro) came up to challenge him. But instead of giving in, Highland Reel powered away to win by 1 ¾ lengths and become only the third horse in history to win two editions of the race.


"He's a very special horse - he's irreplaceable, really," trainer Aidan O'Brien said after the race. "It's very rare that you get a horse that can travel like him. He's been doing it since he was a two-year-old - he won the (Vintage Stakes) at Goodwood as a two-year-old and he's traveled the world in the meantime, so an incredible horse, really."
In addition to being the highest earning European Thoroughbred racehorse ever, Highland Reel ended his career with some outstanding stats. In his career he finished ahead of 156 stakes winning or stakes placed horses with 63 (40.4%) of those being Group/Grade 1 winners, 30 (19.2%) are Group 2 winners as of Dec. 12 and 20 (12.9%) are Group 3 winners with 16 (10.3%) being listed winners (five of those are Group 1 placed). The remaining 27 are graded or listed stakes placed with 23 of the 27 being group stakes placed including five who are Group 1 placed.


Highland Reel’s pedigree is as strong as you’ll find in the stud book in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

The 5-year-old is a son of multiple champion sire Galileo (Sadler’s Wells), who is beginning to show himself as a sire-of-sires with his son Nathaniel siring European Horse of the Year Enable, Frankel siring champion 3-year-old colt Cracksman and 2016 Japanese champion 2-year-old filly Soul Stirring, and sons New Approach and Teofilo siring multiple classic winners. But where it may get difficult for breeders is that Highland Reel is out of a Danehill (Danzig) mare, the cross that has worked very well with Galileo.

A Group 1 Australasian Oaks third-place finisher, Highland Reel’s dam Hveger (Danehill) has proven to breed really well with the Sadler’s Wells/Fairy King line with all three of her stakes winners/stakes placed horses – including Group 1 VRC Oaks runner-up Valdemoro (Encosta de Lago) - being from that line. That obviously could be a problem for Highland Reel as his grandsire is Sadler’s Wells but looking at Hveger’s half-brother gives the idea of an outcross. While one champion half-brother is by Danehill, the other is by Fusaichi Pegasus (Mr. Prospector), a cross that has worked well with at least one son of Galileo out of a Danehill-lined mare.

It should be noted that any mares by Danehill sons will push the Danehill cross by to 3 x 3, which also means that any mares by their sons (Mastercraftsman, Snitzel, ect ect) will take the cross back to a slightly more attractive 3 x 4. Also interesting in the case of War Front becoming a popular cross with Galileo is that any of his daughters bred to Highland Reel will be free of Danehill inbreeding from the two sires and will be 4 x 3 to Danzig. 

Danehill/Danzig isn’t the only cross that has worked with Galileo however, with Anabaa, Storm Cat, Intikhab, Silver Hawk, Pivotal, and Pennekamp some stallions whose daughters have produced at least two Group 1 winners with Galileo. Frankel, who is also bred on the same Galileo/Danehill cross as Highland Reel, also provides a template of some other crosses that may work with Highland Reel, siring Group 1 winners out of Monsun and Pivotal mares with three of his Group 2 winners being out of mares by Mr. Prospector sons. It is still early days but Kingmambo seems to be a successful match with Frankel, with two of Frankel’s group stakes winners out of his daughters.

Inbreeding back to the Northern Dancer or even Sadler’s Wells line has also seemed to work well for Galileo sons with Frankel’s first winner, who went on to win at the group level being out of a Danehill Dancer mare and Enable being bred 3 x 2 to Sadler’s Wells through a Galileo son and a Sadler’s Wells daughter.

At an attractive stud fee of €17,500 during the northern hemisphere season with a race record and pedigree to match a stud fee twice that amount, Highland Reel should be a popular addition to the European stallion ranks. As an added bonus for Coolmore, with a very Australian family on his damside, Highland Reel should also prove to be an attractive shuttle prospect in Australia or New Zealand for those in the southern hemisphere looking for more distance orientated stallions for their mares.


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