Merchant Navy sails to narrow victory at Royal Ascot
Having proved his capabilities at the very highest level in Australia, the three-year-old joined Aidan O’Brien earlier this year with a view to having a crack at this six-furlong Group One and the plan came perfectly to fruition.
The son of Fastnet Rock had made a winning Irish debut in last month’s Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh and was guided in his big-race assignment by Ryan Moore.
There was drama at the very start, with 5-2 favourite Harry Angel playing up before the stalls opened and completely missing the break. He was under pressure from an early stage and ultimately failed to get competitive.
American challenger Bound For Nowhere led for a long way, but Merchant Navy (4-1) drew alongside entering the final furlong and battled his way to the lead.
French ace City Light emerged as the biggest threat as the post loomed and they flashed by almost as one, but after a short wait the judge confirmed Merchant Navy had held on by a short head.
O’Brien said: “He was travelling very well and we knew looking at him that Ryan was very happy on him.
“I think Ryan was hoping not to get there [the front] too early on him and then he got a little bit of a bump and Ryan said it took him a bit of time to re-balance.
“We’re over the moon with him, really. He’s always been very straightforward since he arrived.
“He did five half-speeds before he went to the Curragh, so we weren’t really sure what was going to happen, but we wanted to get a run into him before he came here.
“We thought it was an impossible task for him here as he was 12lb worse off than he would have been in Australia. He’s being treated as a four-year-old here and he’s really a three-year-old. I came here prepared that he couldn’t win, reading what everyone was saying.”
Moore said: “I thought he would win easier, but the American horse leaned into me, we got very tight and he just lost his rhythm for a second. If he’d have got beat I’d have felt he would have been unlucky.”
Stephane Wattel, trainer of City Light, said: “It didn’t look a race to begin with as there were horses everywhere, but it was a great effort.
“This horse has come a long way and I thought for a minute I was going to have a Group One winner.”
City Light’s half-owner and half-breeder, John Corbani, said his charge could head for the Prix Maurice de Gheest later this summer.
Wesley Ward said of the third-placed Bound For Nowhere: “He ran fantastic. I was proud of him.
“He’s a miler and was not meant to be in front, but I guess there wasn’t much pace.
“I’ve always had a lot of faith in him and for him to step up and finish in the top three in a Group One at Royal Ascot is fantastic.
“He can only get better and we’ll try for the Breeders’ Cup Mile.”
Clive Cox said of the vanquished Harry Angel: “His leg was still in the stall when it opened. He’s not straightforward in the stalls, as you can see. It’s a shame it’s happened and it obviously affected the whole day.
“He’s got a nasty puncture wound, which we’re concerned enough about. I’m just sorry for everyone and it’s a shame, but I hope he’ll be fine.”