With jockey Ryan Moore aboard, the Australian-bred son of Fastnet Rock completed six furlongs over the good-to-firm going in 1:12.09. It was the 53rd Royal Ascot victory for the rider.
“I can’t repeat what I was thinking when I hit the line! Merchant Navy is a remarkable horse,” Moore said. “He hasn’t been up here long. He has had two starts here and won them both, beating high-class fields, and he is only a young horse.”
Owned by Merchant Navy Syndicate and Coolmore’s Derrick Smith, Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor, Merchant Navy joined trainer Aidan O’Brien’s shedrow during the spring after being conditioned by Australian-based trainer Ciaron Maher.
“It’s great for the horse and for the owners and they sold him for a fairly healthy sum to Coolmore who always had a share – you can’t have your cake and eat it,” Maher said in regards to missing out on saddling a Royal Ascot winner.
“He’s come through our system and was an unbeaten two-year-old and a Group 1-winning three-year-old and now he has come and done it up here as well. He’s obviously going to have a good time at stud and be very busy in both hemispheres.”
Merchant Navy, who is a three-year-old in the Southern Hemisphere and a four-year-old in the Northern Hemisphere, made his first start for O’Brien in the May 26 Greenlands Stakes (Ire-G2) at the Curragh, scoring by a length, and parlayed that victory into Royal Ascot success to give the master of Ballydoyle his 65th overall winner at the royal meeting.
“Merchant Navy made lovely progress from the Curragh to here, but we thought that it was an impossible task for him,” O’Brien admitted. “We knew that he was meeting the field 12 pound wrong than he was in Australia and it was a big worry for him. He was only a three-year-old being treated as a four-year-old.
“When he ran at the Curragh, his coat didn’t know whether he was going into the winter or coming into the summer. So he had a lot of readjusting to do. Some horses adjust and they have that healthy constitution and some don’t – he obviously has. He has a great mind – he sleeps, eats and is a very straightforward horse.
“I spoke to Ciaron and he told us everything about him. We are over the moon with him.”
The bay colt looks likely to head back to Australia in the near future.
“We were always told that he was only here for Royal Ascot because he has stallion commitments in Australia,” O’Brien explained. “That’s why we were so anxious to get a run into him at the Curragh, because we knew that we might not have him after Ascot. We will have to see what happens now, but that was the plan as far as I was told.”
Trainer Wesley Ward finished third in the race with Bound for Nowhere, who had Joel Rosario aboard and finished three parts of a length behind City Light and just a neck up on The Tin Man.
“I was proud of him,” Ward said. “To step up and be in the top three of a race like this at Royal Ascot is fantastic.”
Harry Angel, the Clive Cox-trained 5-2 favorite, suffered a horrible break and wound up 11th in the field of 12. The four-year-old son of Dark Angel was fractious in the gate under jockey Adam Kirby and got a hind leg caught over the back stall door right before the front gates opened.
“He has a nasty puncture wound, which we are concerned enough about,” Cox explained after the race. “He had his leg caught up on the side (of the stall).
“He was not sound behind when he came in – he wasn’t dreadful, but he wasn’t sound. Whether he has tweaked something high up as well, I am not sure. The vets are seeing him as we speak and flushing the wound that he has on a hind leg.
“He is in the right place and they are taking good care of him. Hopefully, it is not too serious.”
“He has always been a character in the stalls. He threw himself around a bit, it is a split second thing,” Kirby said. “I am gutted really – I just hope the horse is OK. It is no one’s fault – there is nothing you can do.”
Five lined up in the only other group contest earlier on the day, the Hardwicke Stakes (Eng-G2), which saw CRYSTAL OCEAN prevail by 2 1/2 lengths under Moore.
Owned by Sir Evelyn De Rothschild, the four-year-old son of Sea the Stars ran 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.08 to help extend Sir Michael Stoute’s record as the winningest trainer at Royal Ascot with 79 victories.
“It was straightforward. He’s so uncomplicated and such a relaxed horse,” Stoute said. “Mrs. Robeson, Sir Evelyn’s sister, did all the matings. This is the fruits of her labour.”
The July 28 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-G1) over the same course and distance could be Crystal Ocean’s next start.
“I think we will get brave. That’s likely but we will think about it,” Stoute said.
Red Verdon, the 33-1 longest shot in the five-horse field, finished second for trainer Ed Dunlop and could be headed to Australia.
“It is a vastly improved run, but he is adaptable, he was second in the Henry II Stakes (Eng-G3) run over two miles the other day (on May 24). We’ll take him Down Under and he’ll probably have one more run before traveling,” Dunlop said.
“He’s so consistent and he’s improving and we came here because there wasn’t a huge field and we wanted to get our rating up a little bit. We’ve discussed a little while ago the likely option is to go to Australia in the autumn. We’ll work back from the Caulfield Cup (Aus-G1) and the Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1).”
Two of the remaining four races on the day were listed contests.
ARTHUR KITT kicked off the day’s action with a neck victory over Nate the Great in the Chesham Stakes. Jockey Richard Kingscote recorded his fifth Royal Ascot score when the Camelot juvenile finished seven furlongs in 1:28.08.
It was an emotional win for owner Andrew Black of Chasemore Farm and trainer Tom Dascombe, as the colt’s dam, Ceiling Kitty, died giving birth to Arthur Kitt.
“This means a whole lot to all of us – the stable, the staff, Andrew obviously, to Richard and to Chasemore Farm,” said Dascombe, who earned a fourth Royal Ascot win with the score. “We loved the mare, she died giving birth to this horse.
“I’ve lost my voice screaming at him – half-way through the race I thought he was last! But he just knuckled down and got on with it. I am thrilled for Chasemore and for Manor House Stables.
“We won’t over race him now, he is still developing and growing, he’s twice the horse he was, it’s just magical,” he added.
“This is the most special (victory). I have more emotion attached to this horse than any other I have owned,” Black admitted. “The night he was born was such an incredibly difficult, painful night. I always hoped he would be special and we always thought this was the race, being by Camelot out of a speedy mare. I just thought we would win the Chesham and make it right somehow.
“We put the mare down within seconds of having the problem. Then you have all the problems of getting the foal out. There were lots of complications there. He had a twisted leg at that point and it took a long, long time for that to heal.
“We put the call out for a foster mare and managed to get one, and we still have her today. Arthur Kitt was brought up by her, and when they are brought up by a foster mare, they are kind of different and have different personalities.
“He was much more friendly than your average horse. He would come over to you whereas the rest of them wouldn’t.”
Patrick Sells, Chasemore Farm’s in-house vet, described what happened the night Ceiling Kitty died.
“We had the panic when we knew something badly had gone wrong,” he said, “the sorrow when you know you can’t save the mare, then the relief when the foal is responding to resuscitation – it took a good five minutes for him to breathe.
“We were thinking of giving up and he was like a phoenix through the flames to get through that.
“The joy of then seeing him with his black and white nanny mare on the farm, and he was always very calm and collected and this is the realization of all our dreams. Andrew bred him for this race – and that is no exaggeration. Looking at Arthur now, the scope of him, I’ll say he’ll be a very exciting three-year-old.”
The Windsor Castle Stakes was the next listed race, and Clipper Logistics’ SOLDIER’S CALL scored a half-length win over Sabre with jockey Daniel Tudhope in the irons.
Trainer Archie Watson garnered his first Royal Ascot success when the two-year-old son of Showcasing stopped the clock in 1:00.25 for five furlongs.
“I’m very blessed. It means the world to me and the whole team at home,” Watson said. “We are a very young team and I’m sure there will be some partying at The Pheasant in Lambourn tonight.”
“It’s been a long week, it is very hard to get winners here, but I am delighted for Archie to get his first Royal Ascot winner,” said Tudhope, who was earning just his second Royal Ascot win.
Soldier’s Call could end up at Churchill Downs for a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) in November, according to Watson.
“I would imagine the Molcomb (at Glorious Goodwood) would be his aim,” he said before adding, “We would love to go to Churchill Downs for the new Breeders’ Cup race over five and half furlongs (for two-year-olds) in November if that’s the way the season progresses.”
Giles Morland, D. Erwin, John Woodman’s BACCHUS secured a neck score at 33-1 in the Wokingham Heritage Handicap two races later.
Handing trainer Brian Meehan his seventh Royal Ascot winner and jockey Jim Crowley his fifth, the Kheleyf four-year-old gelding ran six furlongs in 1:12.43 to beat 2-1 favorite Dreamfield on the line.
“He was one horse who took a long time to come to hand in the spring. He just needed that bit of extra time,” Meehan said.
“It’s been a great week and it just got better,” said Crowley, who earlier this week captured the Commonwealth Cup (Eng-G1) aboard Eqtidaar. “Fair play to Brian Meehan, as Bacchus has been off the track for 260 days. To come back and win the Wokingham is some training performance – he is a top horse.”
Wrapping up the 2018 Royal Ascot meet, Qatar Racing Limited’s PALLASATOR defeated Renneti by 1 1/2 lengths in the Queen Alexandra Stakes. The nine-year-old gelded son of Motivator completed two miles and 5 1/2 furlongs in 4:45.24, a new course record.
It was only the second Royal Ascot victory for trainer Gordon Elliott, and 26th overall for jockey Jamie Spencer.
“We got a great kick out of that – it’s the first time we’ve been here for a winner as we were away last time,” Elliott said in reference to his first Royal Ascot winner, Commissioned, who captured the 2016 Queen Alexandra Stakes.
“Jamie gave him a great ride and I have to thank Sheikh Fahad for sending him to me, Sir Mark Prescott recommended a change of scene and sending the horse came to me. My thanks have to go to Sir Mark.”