Under the guidance of Seamus Heffernan, the 4-year-old Galileo colt set stiff fractions in the 1 1/2-mile race, opened up a daylight lead in the backstretch, and was never threatened late by second-place finisher and favorite Flintshire en route to a 1 3/4-length score at Santa Anita Park.
The Aidan O'Brien trainee, owned by Coolmore connections, ran the first quarter in :24.83, hit the half in :48 flat, covered six furlongs in 1:12.70 and a mile in 1:36.16, then held off the best efforts of Flintshire to hit the wire in 2:23 flat. With a half-mile to run, Highland Reel held a seven-length advantage.
"He's the type of horse that's brave in front," Heffernan said. "And when he wants to go, you let him go and he turns it on. I thought there were a few horses that were going to come from the back and come quick. So if I was going, I wanted to go early."
O'Brien stablemate Found, who defeated Highland Reel last time out in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), checked in third, another 2 1/4 lengths back.
“He tried to steal the race and he stole it," said Flintshire's jockey, Javier Castellano. "Unfortunately, the way it worked out, it was unfortunate for my horse. Usually you don’t see the European horses run so aggressively, open up, and carry their speed—especially at 1 1/2 miles—but it worked out great for him.”
Along with two group I scores internationally, Highland Reel is now undefeated in two starts on U.S. soil following his score in the 2015 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington International Racecourse.
"We know he gets a mile and a half very well," O'Brien said of Highland Reel. "We know that he handles fast ground. He doesn't mind dictating. He doesn't mind sitting in. So it was straightforward, really. But Seamus executed it brilliant. He was very happy to make the run, and when he did, he controlled the race perfectly."
Ulysses, closed from seventh to take fourth, followed by Ashleyluvssugar, Money Multiplier, Texas Ryano , Ectot, Ralis, Twilight Eclipse, Da Big Hoss , and Mondialiste to complete the order of finish.
The winner paid $9.60, $5.20, and $3.40 across the board. Flintshire brought $3.20 and $2.40, and Found delivered $3.