Merchant Navy snuffs out City Light in Diamond Jubilee thriller

By Geoffrey Riddle@Louchepunter
Sun 24 Jun 2018

Watch a full replay of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes won by Merchant Navy at Royal Ascot on Saturday and read our live report below.

Aidan O'Brien pulled the rabit out of the hat once again when Merchant Navy and Ryan Moore came out on top in a thrilling climax to a dramatic Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday.

Much as he had done eight years previously with Australian import Starspangledbanner, Merchant Navy came from halfway across the world and beat an international field in the six-furlong event.

Even before the race began there was drama.

Harry Angel, the 5-2 favourite, played up before the stalls opened, stood on the stalls and then completely missed the break to leave all chance behind. He was under pressure from an early stage and ultimately finished 11th under Adam Kirby.

American challenger Bound For Nowhere led for a long way under Joel Rosario, but, with his tongue lolling out, Merchant Navy drew alongside entering the final furlong and battled his way to the lead.

Inside the final furlong, Bound For Nowhere lugged to his left before being corrected by Joel Rosario but he made contact woth Merchant Navy. Moore could not prevent his mount returning the favour several strides later.

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.

Australian speedball Redkirk Warrior was disappointing on his return to Britain and was tenth for Frankie Dettori and David Hayes.

"He was travelling very well and we knew looking at him that Ryan was very happy on him," O'Brien said.

"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, who was winning a fifth race of the week on his way to keeping Frankie Dettori at bay in the Royal Ascot jockeys' standings, 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."

 Merchant Navy and groom David Hickey (FocusOnRacing)
Merchant Navy and groom David Hickey (FocusOnRacing)

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.

Asked whether Merchant Navy could run in the July Cup at Newmarket before returning to Australia to take up stallion duties, the trainer added: "He is booked to go back home, but wouldn't it be great (to go for the July Cup)?

"The plan was that he'd run here and then go back to Australia, as I think there's a lot of mares waiting on him there."

 Merchant Navy and City Light as one (FocusOnRacing)
Merchant Navy and City Light as one (FocusOnRacing)

Merchant Navy is a best-priced 8-1 for the Newmarket feature behind King's Stand Stakes winner Blue Point, while Harry Angel is still the 5-1 favourite, although his participation may well be in doubt.

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. He wasn't sound behind when he came in. Not dreadful, but he wasn't sound.

"I'm just sorry for everyone and it's a shame, but I hope he'll be fine."

Kirby added: "He has always been a character in the stalls. He threw himself around a bit, it is a split second thing.

"I am gutted really. I just hope the horse is OK, it's nobody's fault."

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.

Waiting for him in Deauville could be The Tin Man, who ran a solid race in fourth in defence of his title.

"He ran a really good race," trainer James Fanshawe said. "He met with a bit of trouble at the furlong pole and then finished very well. He will probably run in the Prix Maurice De Gheest."

Wesley Ward's Bound For Nowhere looked to have a decent chance on evidence of his runaway defeat in America of Bucchero, who was fifth in Tuesday's King's Stand Stakes and will now be stepped up in trip.

"He ran fantastic. I was proud of him," Ward said of the third-placed finisher.

"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."

Dettori reported of Redkirk Warrior: "He went out like a light, I can't put my finger on it."

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