'Natural' Highland Reel refuses to be beaten in Prince of Wales's Stakes
While Giant's Causeway will forever be known as the 'Iron Horse', it is a tag that could easily apply to Highland Reel after he landed a sixth top-level success of his career in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Going home without a winner on day one of the Royal meeting was almost unheard of for trainer Aidan O'Brien, but he has in the five-year-old a horse he can call upon to strike when it matters most, and he did so for a landmark success for the master of Ballydoyle.
Despite dropping back in trip to 10 furlongs for the first time since the Irish Champion Stakes, the son of Galileo showed all the courage his trainer has on numerous occasions hailed him for in following up his win in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, where he had barely arrived at the track before having to race.
Perfectly positioned just off the early pace by Ryan Moore, the 9-4 shot laid down his challenge approaching the final quarter-mile, together with Decorated Knight and Ulysses, who for a brief moment headed the eventual winner.
But just as he did at Epsom earlier in the month, the globetrotting Group One ace relished the battle and, with stamina assured, he fought back under a determined Moore to get back up and defeat Decorated Knight by a length and a quarter.
O'Brien said: "He was a Group Two winner as a two-year-old on hard ground at Goodwood. I don't think he ever lacked pace. Really what we were hoping were for was the courage to come into it.
"He is tactically very quick and unbelievably courageous. Ryan gave him a brilliant ride, too. He has passed every test you would want a thoroughbred to go through. Ryan asked for courage and he gave it to him.
"We've toured the world with him and every day he has turned up in big races over a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half.
"It is what his dad had. That is what made him different to every other horse that we have had anything to do with and this horse has it tenfold.
"We always thought the world of him, as he was always very natural. He is a natural, brilliant athlete and that is what he has been at home.
"He has an awful lot of tactical speed and that is a huge asset to have in a horse. I'm not sure we have ever had a horse with the constitution he has."
Asked about plans, O'Brien said a defence of his King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes crown was on the agenda: "He'll come back here for the King George, that's what we were thinking if he ran well today."
Reflecting on reaching 300 Group and Grade One career victories, Flat and jumps, O'Brien, who was winning his 56th race at Royal Ascot, said: "We are a small part in a massive team. It's all pure teamwork by all the people involved in this process. It's a huge chain of people involved and we feel privileged to be a part of it.
"The lads make it happen and we are so grateful to them for helping guide us along."
It was a first win in the race for Moore, who echoed similar views to the winning trainer.
He said: "He's so tough, he's got a marvellous attitude, so many came at him there.
"This lad has been everywhere but he keeps coming back. It was a tough performance at Epsom and another one today, he's so brave and I'd say that was probably a career best.
"Fair play to Aidan to keep bringing him back. He had a difficult day at Epsom but to come here and win, it's a massive performance.
"We knew he'd see it out really well."
A trip to Sandown for a tilt at the Eclipse could be next for Decorated Knight, according to his trainer Roger Charlton, who said: "To be fair he was a 10-1 shot today and was fourth- or fifth-favourite but every time he improves and finds a bit more.
"It looked like Ulysses had gone past him, but he battled back and it was no disgrace being beaten by Highland Reel.
"He might go for the Eclipse but we'll talk to the owners, the other option is the Arlington Million but after a performance like that the Eclipse has to be on the agenda."
Sir Michael Stoute described the performance of Ulysses, who finished a short-head back in third, as a career best.
The Newmarket handler said: "I think that was his best performance to date and he has developed from three to four, mentally as well, he's relaxing much better."
The big disappointment in the race was the John Gosden-trained favourite Jack Hobbs.
Having been under pressure turning in the son of Halling failed to pick up, finishing last of the eight runners.
Gosden said: "Obviously, that trip on that ground is not his scene. A mile and a quarter here in the autumn on soft, no problem - but this just isn't his ground.
"He didn't let himself down on it. He came there with every chance in the straight."