O'Brien hopes to end year with a big bang
Master Irish trainer has two strong runners in Sunday's LONGINES Hong Kong International Races
Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien has enjoyed an incredulous 2016.
On Monday, he just collected the flat racing award, as well as saw his five-time Group 1 winner Minding crowned Horse of the Year at Ireland's season-ending ceremony.
This 2016 campaign has seen his Ballydoyle outfit collect a remarkable 22 Group/Grade 1 victories, and record an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - thanks to Found, Highland Reel and Order Of St George.
Whether O'Brien himself has had time for his achievements to sink in is another matter. But his outstanding run of success may not be over yet.
The HK$83 million ($15 million) LONGINES Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin on Sunday offers the stable further opportunities to add to its remarkable season, when HIGHLAND REEL defends his crown in the HK$16.5 million Group 1 Hong Kong Vase over 2,400m and COUGAR MOUNTAIN contests the HK$23 million Group 1 Hong Kong Mile.
Highland Reel has been one of the stable's flag bearers in 2016 with Group 1 wins in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2,400m) at Ascot and the Breeders' Cup Turf (2,400m) at Santa Anita, not to mention that highly creditable second in the Arc.
On Sunday, this remarkable traveller will be making his 20th career start and his 15th outside his native Ireland.
His is an odyssey that has seen him run in England, France, the US, Australia, Dubai and now Hong Kong for a third time. In flying distance, he has circled the globe three times.
Highland Reel may add another international feature for O'Brien, as his charge will probably start as the Vase favourite. The trainer is also pleased with his Hong Kong Mile candidate Cougar Mountain.
"Highland Reel is a very good colt, we know that. He has tactical speed, he stays, and has everything you could want really," said O'Brien from his Ballydoyle base.
"He's been a good traveller from early on in his career, he relaxes, he's adaptable, he doesn't overthink situations.
"Cougar Mountain goes in the Mile, and we were pleased enough with his last run (Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita). He was drawn wide, was checked in his run, was running on at the finish, and not beaten that far.
"He's got the potential to win a Group 1 race we feel. He's a good traveller, and he's a fast ground horse - we'll see how he goes on the day."
Highland Reel yesterday cantered on the turf under regular exercise worker Davy Bergin ahead of Cougar Mountain and he covered the final 800m in 1min 03.9sec, with sectional times of 17.3sec, 17.0sec, 14.9sec and 14.7sec.
The discreet thumbs-up from his rider and the smile on the face of O'Brien's long-time travelling head lad told work watchers all they needed to know.
"They are grand, they'll just keep ticking over now on the all-weather track for the rest of the week until Sunday," said O'Brien's representative Pat Keating.
O'Brien, with his son Donnacha, who has the ride on Cougar Mountain, is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Singapore's Hong Kong Vase contender QUECHUA galloped on the turf with jockey Nooresh Juglall aboard, covering the final 800m in 58.7sec (18.2, 14.8, 12.8 and 12.9).
"He did that very nicely. He has settled in well here," said Juglall. - HKJC