O'Brien joy as Highland Reel shows he is a special talent
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' 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
"The lads make it happen and we are so grateful to them for helping guide us along."
It was a first ever win in the race for jockey Moore. 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 here, he's so brave and I'd say that was probably a career best."
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 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 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: "That trip on that ground is not his scene. A mile and a quarter here in the autumn on soft, no problem - but this isn't his ground. He didn't let himself down on it. He had every chance in the straight."