Saturday 24 June 2017

Heffernan gives masterclass to claim Breeders' Turf glory

Jockey Seamus Heffernan gives the thumb-up after partnering Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel to an impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park on Saturday night. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Jockey Seamus Heffernan gives the thumb-up after partnering Aidan O’Brien’s Highland Reel to an impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park on Saturday night. Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Thomas Kelly

Highland Reel continued the European domination of the Breeders' Cup Turf as Seamus Heffernan produced a masterclass from the front at Santa Anita for Aidan O'Brien.

Heffernan got to the head of affairs early on and controlled matters beautifully on the King George hero, with Arc-winning stablemate Found towards the rear in the hands of Ryan Moore.

On the run to the top of the stretch the gap had become a significant one and with no signs of the leader stopping it was Flintshire who threw down the biggest challenge, but he was never getting there.

Found, who knuckled over slightly on leaving the stalls, came home to good effect to take third.

Brave

An elated Heffernan, bagging his first Breeders' Cup success at the age of 44, said: "He's the type of horse that's brave in front. 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. I just stretched out the race, and I kicked when I should kick her, and it went very well."

Heffernan added: "I was on a horse that handled the conditions well, the tight track and the fast ground. He is straightforward and is very sound, and he stays hardy.

"If given the choice I'd have ridden Found, it's nice to be on the team and nice to get the opportunities.

"I have a lot of people to thank."

O'Brien - striking at the top level for the 22nd time this year to move within three of the record set by the late Bobby Frankel - said: "Seamie has given this horse a star ride.

"The horse has thrived every month this year, and I would like to mention a big word for David who rides him out at home - he has done an incredible job.

"Nobody knows all the big horses better than Seamie, who is a master of his craft.

"He is in his early 40s but he is still getting better and nobody deserves it more than him.

"Highland Reel was at his heaviest weight and he looked super special. He knows this horse so incredibly well, he handles the fast ground and he executed it brilliantly."

On plans for the winner, O'Brien said: "He will stay in training next year and go for all the top middle-distance races on the international spectrum, but he isn't finished yet this year, as he is in the Japan Cup and a race in Hong Kong.

"The Japan Cup is in three weeks and the Hong Kong race is six weeks away - he could take in one of those or he could possibly do both. We will take him home and see how he is."

O'Brien confirmed Found would now head for a deserved retirement. "Ryan was delighted with Found. He wasn't over-hard on her on her last race before retirement and she has been a great asset to us. She has been a very special mare."

Ulysses was fourth for Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori, who teamed up to win the Filly & Mare Turf earlier in the evening with Queen's Trust.

One of the joys of attending any Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita is seeing hundreds of horses, many of them champions, exercising on the track as the sun rises during the build-up to the meeting.

Dawn from Clockers' Corner under the San Gabriel Mountains is something every keen racegoer should behold once.

But the action that really counts, on which the 33rd Championships stood or fell, takes place as the sun starts to go down and this year, as grand finales, neither the Classic on Saturday nor the Distaff on Friday let anyone down.

Both races will go down in dirt racing lore for different reasons.

In the €5.4m Classic, the inexperienced, unseasoned three-year-old colt Arrogate, belonging to Khaled Abdullah and ridden by 'Big Money' Mike Smith, looked destined for second before running down the popular California Chrome, the biggest money spinner in US racing history, in the last 50 yards, the pair having galloped 10 lengths clear of the third.

Duel

If anything, Friday's Distaff was an even better horse race, a duel of almost Grundy versus Bustino proportions, as the old mare Beholder went stride for stride with the unbeaten young filly Songbird for the last two furlongs with neither Gary Stevens nor Smith resorting to the whip. Beholder eventually prevailed by a nose.

British success at the meeting was, as it often is, delivered by the combination of Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori, who teamed up with Queen's Trust in the Filly And Mare Turf.

A vintage Dettori planted his mount's nose in front on the line and dedicated his win to Freddy Tylicki.

Next year the Breeders' Cup moves south down the Californian coast for its first visit to Del Mar.

Irish Independent

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