Few, if any, horses have logged as many frequent flier miles as Highland Reel has in recent years. His career has spanned four years, four continents, and seven countries, as he's found himself listed amongst the best in the world for three consecutive seasons.
Currently co-11th in the 2017 Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings at 123, the bay 5-year-old will make his final racetrack appearance Dec. 10 in the Longines Hong Kong Vase (G1) during the Longines Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse. In 2016 Highland Reel finished the year at 123, which was co-12th in the world, and in 2015 he was rated at 121, which put him at co-27th.
"He's one of those very special horses," trainer Aidan O'Brien said. "He is very durable, very consistent, and he's tactically very quick in a race. He is very genuine. He is very clear winded and takes not a lot of training. He's a great horse."
The son of Galileo made his racing debut in June of 2014 for Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, and Michael Tabor, and ran second by a mere three quarters of a length. He broke his maiden at second asking by a dominating 12 lengths that July with Joseph O'Brien in the irons, and ironically, that is the only one of his victories to come in Ireland.
In his third and final start as a juvenile, Highland Reel hinted at things to come with his win in the Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes (G2) at Goodwood.
"Obviously, he was a top-class group 2 winner as a 2-year-old, so his form was right at the top all the way along," said O'Brien. "It is very unusual to be at the top at 2, 3, 4, and 5, though. Very few horses are able to maintain that."
Highland Reel's victories as a 3-year-old included the Secretariat Stakes (G1T) at Arlington International Racecourse and the Longines Hong Kong Vase. He also finished second in the Prix du Jockey Club (G1) at Chantilly, and was third in the William Hill Cox Plate (G1) at Moonee Valley.
Last year, he added to his group/grade 1 tally with scores in the QIPCO King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) at Santa Anita Park, while finishing second in the Juddmonte International Stakes (G1) at York, Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Chantilly, and another edition of the Hong Kong Vase.
In his final season in top-level company, Highland Reel has delivered in the Investec Coronation Cup (G1) at Epsom and Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, while finishing third in Ascot's QIPCO Champion Stakes (G1) and in the Breeders' Cup Turf as the favorite at Del Mar.
Four of his six wins at the highest level have come with two-time Longines World's Best Jockey Ryan Moore in the saddle.
One of the keys to Highland Reel's success is that while traveling takes something out of many horses, he is one that seems to thrive on it. With his temperament allowing his connections to run him around the world, there was no reason not to do so.
"He loves traveling, really," said O'Brien. "He is a total pro. He handles all kinds of situations very easily, and he's a very adaptable horse."
The list of horses Highland Reel has vanquished throughout his career includes Flintshire , Cirrus des Aigles, Found, Ulysses, Mondialiste, Hawkbill, Decorated Knight, Queen's Trust, Dartmouth, Jack Hobbs, and his own full brother, Idaho, among others.
When Highland Reel won the 2015 Vase, he became the first 3-year-old to win the race, and in doing so, he gave O'Brien his first victory in Hong Kong. It was also a victory for his native Ireland, which had not had a win during the Hong Kong International Races since Alexander Goldrun's score in the 2004 Hong Kong Cup (G1).
In 2016, he looked to be the winner until Japan's Satono Crown chased him down in the stretch to win by a half-length.
This year, Highland Reel's biggest challenge appears to be Talismanic, upset winner of this year's Breeders' Cup Turf.
"We don't ever take anything for granted," said O'Brien. "Every one of these races is very special and very hard to win."
Whether he finds the finish line first or not in the Vase, Highland Reel will return to his native Ireland, as he is set to begin his stallion career at Coolmore Stud for €17,500 ($23,500) in 2018.
To date, Highland Reel has been victorious in six group/grade 1 races, won at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/2 miles, and has earned more than $9.2 million, which is more than any other European-trained horse in history.