European sprinting has a new star name to reckon – at least for a week or two – as the ex-Australian three-year-old Merchant Navy put up a massive performance to edge out France’s game City Lights in a dramatic renewal of the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the final day of Royal Ascot 2018.
The script went out of the window the moment the stalls opened as the Clive Cox-trained 5/2 favourite Harry Angel managed to get caught in his stall and lost valuable ground at the start. Although he tried to recover, it was clear all was not well with Adam Kirby’s mount who was eased down a long way from home and returned with a puncture wound.
At the head of affairs, 16/1 shot Bound For Nowhere took them along for US trainer Wesley Ward and had plenty of them in trouble at the furlong pole. Aidan O’Brien’s Merchant Navy (4/1), under Ryan Moore, emerged however with a scything run, hitting the front 75 yards out before immediately being challenged by Christophe Soumillon on City Lights (12/1), another horse who had fluffed his lines at the start. As they hit the winning line it was too close to call, but after a photo-finish the judge awarded victory to the Irish raider by a short-head, with Bound For Nowhere hanging on for a much deserved third, just ahead of last year’s winner The Tin Man, who failed to get a run when he needed it most before staying on bravely into a closing fourth.
“I can’t repeat what I was thinking when we hit the line,” admitted a relieved Moore. “He’s a remarkable horse. He’s hasn’t been up here long, he’s won both his starts here, and he’s beaten a high-class field today. 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.”
“I can’t tell you how happy we are,” beamed O’Brien. “He improved a lot from the Curragh to here, and we thought there was plenty more to come, but he’s booked to go back to Australia after this so I don’t know what’s going to happen. Wouldn’t it be great to have him for the July Cup too.”
With £340,000 prize money in the bag, connections of the winner may decided to delay his flight back Down Under to take in the July Cup for which he is still available at 8/1 with Betfair, although many other firms have cut him to a variety of odds as short as 4/1. The luckless Harry Angel has drifted from 4/1 to 5/1 with Totesport, and King’s Stand Stakes hero Blue Point is now a top priced 6/1 with Ladbrokes for the July 14 six furlong Group 1 Newmarket sprint.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.