'Amazing' Highland Reel rights the Coolmore ship
When things aren't going quite right it's good to have a reliable friend you can turn to – and few trainers have ever had a friend as reliable as the incredible Highland Reel.
It was hardly crisis time for Aidan O'Brien by halfway through Wednesday afternoon, but he'd certainly had better starts to Royal Ascot.
Not only had he failed to score at a meeting where he was long odds-on to be top trainer, dual 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill had managed only an anti-climactic fourth in Tuesday's flagship St James's Palace Stakes.
And 24 hours later came the agony of watching outsider Spirit Of Valor get nailed in the opening Jersey Stakes, just as he appeared set to give Ballydoyle an unexpected boost.
But cometh the hour, cometh the horse. Waiting in the wings was Highland Reel, a positive hero of a thoroughbred for whom getting saddled up ahead of a race is akin to Superman changing into his cape and underpants.
He has toughed it out
Any time, any place, anywhere, from Ascot to Arlington, Sha Tin to Santa Anita, he has toughed it out to land a prestigious Group or Grade 1 prize.
And he wasn't going to let the fact he was dropping back to ten furlongs in the Prince of Wales's Stakes stop him answering Coolmore's call.
Taking a lead rather than adopting his customary front-running role, he battled on splendidly in the final furlong for a gutsy length-and-a-quarter victory under Ryan Moore that took his career earnings to just £53,000 short of £6 million.
He was hailed as "one of the great international stars of the modern era" by commentator Ian Bartlett before his walk back to the winner's enclosure – where O'Brien was full of praise for his toughness, which he attributed to sire Galileo.
"We were hoping courage would come into it," the trainer said. "He's unbelievably courageous.
"It's what his dad had that made him different to every other horse we've had, and he has it tenfold. If the pace is strong he doesn't give up, if it comes to bravery I've never seen him wanting."
The shorter trip had not concerned O'Brien, who was enjoying his 56th Royal Ascot winner, and he said: "He was a Group 2 winner over seven furlongs on hard ground at Goodwood as a two-year-old so I don't think he ever lacked pace. He's tactically very sharp, he's concrete.
'We've travelled everywhere with him'
"He's passed every test you would want a thoroughbred to go through, from the time he was two. He has turned up in big races and we've travelled everywhere with him. He's an amazing horse."
Highland Reel was racing just 19 days after he had overcome a very troubled journey to Epsom to land the Coronation Cup, and Moore said: "It was a big effort from everyone at home after his nightmare getting to Epsom to perform the way he did. Aidan always does a great job of getting him back quickly."
The five-year-old is now likely to bid for a repeat of last year's victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Roger Charlton was thrilled with runner-up Decorated Knight and said: "Every time he runs, he improves. It's no disgrace to be beaten by Highland Reel.
"I need to talk to the owners, but the Arlington Million is a possibility, as is the Coral-Eclipse."
Sir Michael Stoute, who had the third and fourth, said: "I think that's Ulysses's best performance to date. He's developed very pleasingly from three to four and he's mentally more mature.
"Queen's Trust ran a blinder. She was interfered with soon after the jump off but came home as well, or better, than any of them."
However, 2-1 favourite Jack Hobbs fared much worse, trailing home last of the eight runners.
TOP TEN EUROPEAN-TRAINED PRIZE-MONEY EARNERS (£)
Cirrus Des Aigles 6,179,490
Highland Reel 5,947,052
Gloria De Campeao 5,898,547
Red Cadeaux 4,998,408
St Nicholas Abbey 4,954,590