O’Brien happy with Highland Reel
Aidan O'Brien has hailed Highland Reel's adaptability ahead of his defence of the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.
Highland Reel works on the track at Sha Tin
Having looked just a shade below top-class on a couple of occasions in the early part of last season, the master of Ballydoyle sent his colt abroad in search of Group One glory, a move which first paid off handsomely in the Secretariat Stakes in Chicago.
After coming up short in the Irish Champion Stakes, he journeyed to Australia, where he finished third in the Cox Plate, before his tremendous victory over Flintshire in the Far East.
Highland Reel has taken his game to another level this season, adding to his top-level tally in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Turf, and Ryan Moore gets back on board for the first time since his midsummer triumph at Ascot this weekend.
O'Brien said: "Highland Reel is a very good colt, we know that. He has tactical speed, he stays, and has everything you could want really.
"He's been a good traveller from early on in his career, he relaxes, he's adaptable, he doesn't overthink situations."
The only British-trained challenger in the 14-strong field is Michael Bell's popular stayer Big Orange.
For the last two years the five-year-old has won both the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket and the Goodwood Cup, but while in 2015 he went on to run an excellent fifth in the Melbourne Cup, this time he was a shade disappointing in 10th.
"He's bounced back really well from the travel and he's in good form," said Bell.
"He's a happy horse and happy horses generally perform well. I'd be happy to see him lead but they say there might be a bit of pace in the race so we'll play that by ear.
"I am very happy with him and we should be in the mix on Sunday, especially if there are any chinks in Highland Reel's armour."
Immediately following the Vase is the Sprint, in which Richard Fahey saddles Growl.
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The four-year-old ran a fantastic race at huge odds when runner-up in the Qipco British Champions Sprint before a thrilling success in Doncaster's Wentworth Stakes.
Graham Lee keeps the ride, and Fahey said: "He is an unassuming character and it is hard to know how good he actually is.
"Growl is so straightforward that he could train himself. We got him just when he was starting to come right.
"He ran easily the best race of his life at Ascot and did what he had to do to win at Doncaster last time – sprinters winning is good for their confidence.
"When I saw the photo of him arriving off the plane in Hong Kong I thought he looked a bit light, but now I've seen him here I think he's looking grand."
O'Brien fields Cougar Mountain in the Mile and with Moore partnering Japanese hope Neorealism, the trainer's son Donnacha takes the ride.
"We were pleased enough with his last run (eighth in Breeders' Cup Mile). He was drawn wide, was checked in his run, was running on at the finish, and not beaten that far," said O'Brien senior.
"He's got the potential to win a Group One race we feel.
"He's a good traveller and he's a fast-ground horse – we'll see how he goes on the day."
The final Group One event is the Cup, in which A Shin Hikari bids for back-to-back victories.
The son of Deep Impact was bitterly disappointing when odds-on for the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and was since well-beaten by the reopposing Maurice in the Tenno Sho in Tokyo.
A Shin Hikari is set to be retired after defending his title, while trainer Masanori Sakaguchi is handing in his licence next year.
He said: "He is a very talented horse, but he either wins really well or loses really badly.
"As you know, he is a difficult horse, but overseas racing suits him mentally. Less paddock time and pre-race walking allows him to remain calmer than he would in Japan.
"I hope he takes the lead and maintains the position throughout the race.
"He has given me so many great experiences and memories.
"I will never forget him."
The International Races from Sha Tin get under way at 0600(GMT) on Sunday – check out Sky Bet's latest prices on all four contests
Racing UK will be free to watch from 5.30am to 9am on Sunday to cover all the action. Oli Bell and Richard Hoiles will be in the studio.
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