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2018 Royal Ascot Day Five Recap: Merchant Navy Punches Breeders’ Cup Ticket

Merchant Navy wins at Royal Ascot
Ascot Racecourse Photo

ASCOT, BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND – Day Five, the final day of Royal Ascot, is complete. Saturday, we saw Merchant Navy win the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, the final Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race at Royal Ascot. See the full day’s recap below:

Listed Chesham Stakes

It was a poignant success for connections after winning the 7-furlong Listed Chesham Stakes with Arthur Kitt – the colt’s dam Ceiling Kitty had died giving birth to him. Ceiling Kitty had won the G2 Queen Mary in 2012 for owner Andrew Black of Chasemore Farm and trainer Tom Dascombe.

“This means a whole lot to all of us – the stable, the staff, Andrew obviously, to Richard and to Chasemore Farm,” said Dascombe after training his fourth Royal Ascot winner. “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’s just knuckled down and got on with it. He’s learning – I am thrilled for Chasemore and for Manor House Stables,” said Dascombe.

“We won’t over race him now, he is still developing and growing, he’s twice the horse he was, its just magical,” he added when outlining future plans for the Camelot colt.

Chasemore Farm’s in-house vet Patrick Sells explained what happened that sad night when 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 breath.

“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 realisation 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 3-year-old.”

G2 Hardwicke Stakes

Trainer Sir Michael Stoute celebrated his 11th triumph in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes after Crystal Ocean, owned by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, landed the odds.

The 4/7 shot travelled in the slipstream of last year’s winner Idaho for much of the mile and a half contest.

Crystal Ocean’s rider Ryan Moore made his move with over two furlongs out, powering to the front in telling fashion.

Red Verdon tried to throw down a challenge but Stoute’s charge had all the angles covered and stormed to victory by two and a half lengths.

It was Stoute’s sixth winner in the last nine renewals of the race and also his fourth of the week at the Meeting.

After the race Royal Ascot’s most successful trainer walked into the parade ring with a thumbs-up gesture and a big smile.

He said: “It was straightforward. He’s so uncomplicated and such a relaxed horse.

“Mrs Robeson, Sir Evelyn’s sister, did all the matings. This is the fruits of her labour.”

The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) over course and distance on July 28 is the obvious next step for Crystal Ocean.

Stoute said: “I think we will get brave. That’s likely but we will think about it.”

Asked which of his 11 Hardwicke Stakes is the best, Stoute demurred. “They never galloped with each other,” he replied with a broad grin on his face.

Listed Windsor Castle Stakes

Trainer Archie Watson was understandably thrilled after landing his first ever Royal Ascot winner thanks to Soldier’s Call, the 28-runner Windsor Castle Stakes.

The Showcasing colt showed dazzling speed to head up the group of horses racing closest to the stands’ side rail.

He also demonstrated great resolve in the closing stages of the five-furlong contest as Sabre burst from the pack to throw down a serious bid for glory.

But 12/1 shot Soldier’s Call dug deep to win by a half a length to give Watson recompense for finishing second with Nate The Great an hour earlier in the Chesham Stakes.

Watson, in his second full season with a trainers’ licence, said: “I’m very blessed. It means the world to me and the whole team at home.

“We are a very young team and I’m sure there will be some partying at The Pheasant in Lambourn tonight.

“I was delighted with my runner in the Chesham. He ran a huge race.

“But this horse has got so much natural speed. We were umming and ahhing about whether to run in the Norfolk Stakes or the Windsor Castle. So I’m glad our decision to run here has been vindicated.

“We are just grateful to Steve Parkin (owner) and his team for sending us this calibre of horse.

“I would imagine the Molcomb (at Glorious Goodwood) would be his aim. 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.

“He and Nate The Great are two very natural horses and there is nice strength in depth to our two-year-olds.”

G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes

Merchant Navy, trained by Aidan O’Brien, won the last G1 of Royal Ascot 2018, the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, by a short-head from the French-trained City Light.

Merchant Navy is an Australian-bred son of Fastnet Rock, a three-year-old in the southern hemisphere and a four-year-old here. The horse’s last run in Australia came in March. His first northern hemisphere run was in the G3 Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh in May.

Aidan O’Brien, registering his fourth winner at Royal Ascot 2018, said: “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.

“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.”

With the win, Merchant Navy earned an automatic berth into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) through the international Breeders’ Cup Challenge.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge is an international series of 82 stakes races, whose winners receive automatic starting positons and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 2-3.

The Diamond Jubilee was the fourth Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re in” qualifier to be held during the Royal Ascot meeting.

As part of the benefits of the Challenge series, the Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for Merchant Navy, owned by the Merchant Navy Syndicate of Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor, and trained by Aidan O’Brien, to start in the Turf Sprint, which will be run at 5.5 furlongs. Breeders’ Cup will also provide a $40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.

Merchant Navy becomes the second horse to earn an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint this year, joining the 6-year-old Disco Partner, who won the Jaipur Invitational (G2) at Belmont Park on June 9.

Of the horse travelling from Australia to Ireland, O’Brien said: “I spoke to Ciaron [Ciaron Maher, former trainer] and he told us everything about him. Andrew was very happy with him once he came over, as was Davy who looks after him and Derrick who rides him.

“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.

“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.

“It has been a great week – we had some winners and some horses that didn’t win. The horses ran well but, for some reason, they were maybe three weeks off. They weren’t blowing much, they were very healthy but just the little edge wasn’t there with some of them. Just sometimes it can happen, it wasn’t fitness. They are at a stage now that three weeks or a month we’ll be happy.

“We haven’t been on grass and that might have something to do with it – it was too heavy and then it got too hard, I was afraid to change them off the all-weathers on to the grass because I wanted to keep them safe and sound and with us.

“But it’s the most competitive racing in the world and a privilege to be here. We’re so grateful to have the winners, but we were ‘there’ really without quite being ‘there’.

Ciaron Maher, the Australian-based former trainer of Merchant Navy, when asked of his thoughts concerning missing out on training the horse to win himself, said: “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.

“He’s come through our system and was an unbeaten two-year-old and a G1-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.

“I have never been to Royal Ascot, but I thought a testing six furlongs would be perfect for him – and he can run seven, he proved that as a two-year-old. He’s got an unbelievable set of lungs, a testing 1200 would be ideal for him.

“He’s still developing, he was a later foal, he’d be better again next year – but he’ll be off to stud by then!”

When asked if he had thought Merchant Navy could reverse Australian form with Redkirk Warrior, Maher added: “Redkirk Warrior’s was not going to keep on improving, this horse is still improving, we were hopeful.”

Wokingham Heritage Handicap

Brian Meehan recorded his first Royal Ascot winner for six years when Bacchus sprang a 33/1 surprise in the Wokingham Heritage Handicap.

The Manton-based trainer was part of a sustained and joyous reaction after the four-year-old defied an almighty plunge on the previously unbeaten 2/1 favourite Dreamfield.

The two horses fought out an exciting tussle late, but it was the neck winner Bacchus who triggered huge scenes of celebration in the parade ring.

It was a tremendous feat by Meehan and the horse, who was making his first start in 260 days.

Meehan said: “He was one horse who took a long time to come to hand in the spring. He just needed that bit of extra time.

“I said to the boys that we’d head straight to the Wokingham with him. We were talking about races like this and the Ayr Gold Cup as he’s tailor made for the job.

“He’s handicapped right at the moment but we will see what the handicapper does after this.

“He’s just a lovely horse who ran some lovely races last year and I’m just delighted with him today.

“The owners have supported me so well, so to have a Royal Ascot winner for them is just off the charts. It’s just wonderful.”

Queen Alexandra Stakes

The mercurial, quirky, yet talented Pallasator (11/2) landed the concluding race of Royal Ascot 2018, the Queen Alexandra Conditions Race for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jamie Spencer.

Winning rider Spencer was registering his second victory of the the week following Agrotera’s win in yesterday’s Sandringham Handicap and his 26th success overall at the Royal Meeting.

The nine-year-old son of Motivator lugged towards the stands’ side rail in the closing stages but fended off Willie Mullins’ 40/1 shot Renneti to score by a length and a half in the extended two mile and five-furlong furlong event.

Pallasator and third-placed Count Octave (4/1) are both owned by Qatar Racing, whilst the winner provided Elliott, best known for his exploits over jumps, with a second success at the Royal Meeting [2016 Commissioned, Queen Alexandra].

Spencer said: “Pallasator wasn’t really enjoying things early on when I was down on the fence.

“He came alive when I switched him out. I wanted to get him out even earlier turning for home, but once I was able to get him out, he flew.

“Gordon said to me to hunt away early on and when I get to the two-furlong pole to not go too early on him.

“When Pallsator got to the front, he pulled up. It’s great to ride a winner for Gordon, as he is a great fellow. Gordon might have grown a bit over the years, but he is still the same Gordon.

“It’s a great way to finish the meeting and I know it is just a Conditions Race, but there’s one man who should be here this week and that’s Pat Smullen. I wish him all the best as he is one of us.”

O’BRIEN CROWNED LEADING TRAINER, MOORE LEADING JOCKEY AND COOLMORE LEADING OWNER

Ballydoyle handler Aidan O’Brien was crowned the QIPCO Royal Ascot Leading Trainer for the ninth time at the Royal Meeting thanks to four winners at this year’s meeting.

Newmarket trainer John Gosden also had four winners, but O’Brien had one more second than Gosden, thereby claiming the award on countback.

O’Brien’s winners this week were Kew Gardens [G2 Queen’s Vase], Hunting Horn [G3 Hampton Court Stakes], Magic Wand [G2 Ribblesdale Stakes] and Merchant Navy in today’s feature race, the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

O’Brien now has 65 winners at the Royal Meeting in total.

After being presented with the award, O’Brien said: “We are delighted really. It’s tough, very competitive racing.

“Merchant Navy is a great horse. He was at a big weight disadvantage today but it was great for him to win and we couldn’t be happier really.

“We had plenty of races that we didn’t win, but we were privileged and delighted to win a few.

“It’s competitive racing at Royal Ascot. No matter what race you run a horse in, it is always tough to win and very competitive, but that’s what makes it special.

“Don’t be under any illusions, this is very tough racing.”

Jockey Ryan Moore was crowned the QIPCO Royal Ascot Top Jockey for the eighth time in nine years, with five victories at the Royal Meeting this week.

Moore struck aboard Kew Gardens [G2 Queen’s Vase], Hunting Horn [G3 Hampton Court Stakes], Magic Wand [G2 Ribblesdale Stakes], Crystal Ocean [G2 Hardwicke Stakes] and Merchant Navy [G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes].

Moore now has 53 winners at the Royal Meeting overall.

Coolmore also claimed the Leading Owner Award following the successes of Kew Gardens [G2 Queen’s Vase], Hunting Horn [G3 Hampton Court Stakes], Magic Wand [G2 Ribblesdale Stakes] and Merchant Navy [G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes].

Source: Ascot Racecourse

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