Aidan O’Brien finally landed a Group 1 event at this year’s Royal Ascot when Merchant Navy (4/1), won a thrilling £600,000 Diamond Jubilee Stakes by a short-head from the French-trained City Light (12/1), with the Wesley Ward-trained Bound For Nowhere (16/1) a further three-parts of a length back in third.
The Australian-born son of Fastnet Rock settled behind his stable companions Spirit Of Valor and Intelligence Cross in the early stages of the six-furlong contest and held on gamely under a power-packed Ryan Moore ride in the closing stages to claim a Northern Hemisphere Group 1 to add to his AUD $1m Coolmore Stud Stakes (Group 1) win at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, in 2017.
Merchant Navy, a four-year-old (a Southern Hemisphere three-year-old) won his first start for O’Brien in the Group 2 Greenlands Stakes at The Curragh in May.
Aidan O’Brien, who won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with Starspangledbanner in 2010, said of this year’s winner:
“Merchant Navy made lovely progress from The Curragh to here, but we thought that it was an impossible task for him. 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.
The 65-times Royal Ascot winning handler continued:
“Merchant Navy was travelling very well and we knew looking at him that Ryan was very happy. I think he was hoping he would not have to get there too early on him. He got a little bit of a bump and Ryan said it took a bit of time to rebalance. We are over the moon with him.”
Though Merchant Navy has been made 3/1f for the July Cup at Newmarket on 14th July, O’Brien admitted that the colt will almost certainly now return to Australia:
“We were always told that he was only here for Royal Ascot because he has stallion commitments in Australia. 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. The plan might change.”
Successful rider Ryan Moore, who previously won the Group 1 with Twilight Son in 2016, was impressed with his 53rd Royal Ascot winner, stating:
“He hasn’t been up here (Northern Hemisphere) long. He has had two starts here and won them both, beating high-class fields, and he is only a young horse. I thought I would have won easier, but Bound For Nowhere leaned into me and we got very tight, so he lost his rhythm for a second.”
4.20pm £600,000 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Group 1)
1 Merchant Navy (AUS) (Blinkers, Tongue Strap) Aidan O’Brien & Ryan Moore 4/1
2 City Light (FR) Stephane Wattel & Christophe Soumillon 12/1
3 Bound For Nowhere (USA) Wesley Ward & Joel Rosario 16/1
Favourite 11th Harry Angel (IRE) 5/2.