Royal Ascot Day Five: Merchant Navy wins Diamond Jubilee

The 2018 renewal of Royal Ascot faded into history with a thrilling, internationally flavored stretch battle in the day’s crown jewel, the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes — Australia winning over France and the United States.

Ryan Moore rode the winners of the day’s two biggest races. Sir Michael Stoute added to his all-time trainer record and Irish conditioner Aidan O’Brien wound up the meeting on a high note.

Wesley Ward, who pioneered American participation in the Royal Ascot pageantry, came up short on winners but salvaged third in the Diamond Jubilee.

Her Majesty the Queen wore an outfit officially described as green and ivory, confounding fashion prognosticators.

Here’s how they ran:

The Diamond Jubilee

Australian invader Merchant Navy prevailed over French and American rivals in the big race on the final day of Royal Ascot 2018, the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee. The race was a bit of a rough go with one of the favorites left at the start and some crowding through the final furlong.

When all was done, though, Merchant Navy prevailed by a nose, giving O’Brien and Moore another top-level win at the Royal meeting and his Australian and Irish owner syndicates an even more valuable stallion prospect.

Merchant Navy, a 4-year-old colt by Fastnet Rock, was a Group 1 winner in his native Australia but made the long trip to the British Isles in time for a prep race May 26 at the Curragh in Ireland. He won that with Moore getting a feel for the colt.

The victory carried an automatic entry for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint this fall at Churchill Downs through the international Challenge program but Merchant Navy likely is headed home to Australia for the Southern Hemisphere spring breeding season.

“We were always told that he was only here for Royal Ascot because he has stallion commitments in Australia,” O’Brien said. “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.”

City Light came from France to finish second, 3/4 length in front of Bound for Nowhere, who came from a win at Keeneland for owner-trainer Wesley Ward. Australia’s other hope, Redkirk Warrior, finished a nowhere 10th.

“I can’t repeat what I was thinking when we hit the wire,” Moore said. “The American horse leaned into me and he (Merchant Navy) just lost his room for a minute … If I had got beat, I would have been very unlucky.”

The race had a brush with disaster at the start as Harry Angel, the 5-2 favorite, acted up in the gate, kicking out with both hind legs. The starter pushed the button as Harry Angel’s left rear leg still was propped on a rail inside the stall and he staggered out of the gate. “He basically came out of the stall on three legs,” his handler said on British television.

Clive Cox, who trains Harry Angel for Godolphin, said the colt returned after finishing next-last with “a nasty puncture wound, which we are concerned enough about. He was not sound behind when he came in. He wasn’t dreadful, but he wasn’t sound. I am just sorry for everyone and it’s a shame, but I think we will be fine.”

The Hardwicke

Moore abandoned two of his regular rides for O’Brien to stay with Sir Michael and the heavy favorite, Crystal Ocean, in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes. As usual, he proved prescient as the 4-year-old Sea the Stars colt emerged the easy winner.

Moore allowed Idaho, one of his previous mounts, to make all the early going while drafting right in behind. When Idaho had enough turning for home, Moore sent Crystal Ocean straight to the front and he strode out to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Red Verdon. Cliffs of Moher, second in last year’s Derby and another former Moore partner, was making up ground late and finished third. Barsani and Idaho completed the order of finish.

“It was very straightforward,” Moore said. “Crystal Ocean is a lovely progressive horse and I’m very thankful to be riding him today. Crystal Ocean is a horse who has done nothing wrong throughout his career. We have always liked him and all horses improve as they get older and have more experience.”

Sir Michael extended his Royal Ascot record with his 79th win — fourth of this meeting. Crystal Ocean ran his season’s mark to 3-for-3, all with Moore riding.

The winner has yet to race at the Group 1 level but that step seems inevitable as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth — over the same course and distance July 28 — is his likely next start. “I think we will get brave,” Sir Michael said. “That’s likely but we will think about it.”

The Chesham Stakes

The drama, history and pageantry of Royal Ascot gave way to tugs at the heartstrings in the Chesham Stakes as Arthur Kitt seized the lead with a late burst of speed and won by a neck. The colt’s dam, Ceiling Kitty, won the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2012 but died giving birth to the colt would be Arthur Kitt. The foal, himself resuscitated several times and raised by a foster mare, won his first race May 25 at Haydock and was a moderately priced long shot for the Chesham.

“The night he was born was such a painful night,” said owner Andrew Black. I just thought, ‘We’ll win the Chesham with this and that will somehow make it all right … This is the most special. I have more emotion attached to this horse than any other I have owned.”

Nate the Great was a close second and Duke of Hazard finished third. The strong favorite, Natalie’s Joy, never figured and finished seventh.

Windsor Castle

Soldier’s Call led the way on the stands side of the course throughout most of the 5 furlongs of the Windsor Castle Stakes for 2-year-olds and held tenaciously to win by 1/2 length from Sabre. Dom Carlos was third and Van Beethoven, after a slow start, came flying on the far side rail to finish fourth. The American hope, Wesley Ward trainee Moonlight Romance, was 13th under Joel Rosario.

Soldier’s Call, a Showcasing colt, finished second in his first trip to the track May 11 at Lingfield and became a winner June 7 at Haydock.

“We were umming and ahhing about whether to run in the Norfolk Stakes or the Windsor Castle,” said winning trainer Archie Watson. “So I’m glad our decision to run here has been vindicated.”

“I would imagine the Molcomb (Aug. 1 at Glorious Goodwood) would be his aim,” Watson continued. “We would love to go to Churchill Downs for the new Breeders’ Cup race over five and half furlongs (the Juvenile Turf Sprint) in November if that’s the way the season progresses.”

The Wokingham

Bacchus raced prominently through the Wokingham Handicap, took aim at the favorite, Dreamfield, who drifted nearly into him, then just did catch that rival to win by a neck. Major Jumbo was third in the field of 28 at the end of 6 furlongs.

Undrafted, winner of the 2014 Diamond Jubilee and the last of Wesley Ward’s hopefuls for this Royal meeting, started well but could not go with the field and finished 18th. Ward finished the meeting with a single winner.

“The race panned out perfectly,” said winning rider Jim Crowley. Crowley said trainer Brian Meehan “said to me that Bacchus didn’t want to be in front too soon. When I saw Dreamfield carry me along like that, I rode him to beat Dreamfield then and it worked out great.”

John Gosden, who saddled the 2-1 favorite Dreamfield, said, “I told everyone early on: ‘One, it is a silly price and, two, I don’t like the draw.”

The Queen Alexandra

At nearly 1 3/4 miles, the Queen Alexandra is the longest race on the British flat racing calendar and the winner, Pallasator, showed the effects at the end.

After tracking the pace under Jamie Spencer, the 9-year-old Motivator gelding made the front at mid-stretch and survived despite wandering first left and then back right across the course.

“He was down inside and didn’t like it” early in the race, Spencer said. “He came alive when I switched him out.”

The favorite, Thomas Hobson, was never prominent and finished eighth. Pallasator rewarded NBC-TV commentator Nick Luck for an excellent week-long job with a “going home” winner at odds of nearly 6-1.