Merchant Navy (by Fastnet Rock) was a listed and Group 3 scorer for trainer Ciaron Maher, switched to Aaron Purcell, and then got up on the line to take the six-furlong Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington in November.
He was only beaten by half a length when Group 2-placed on his next start, then by a neck when third to Redkirk Warrior in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap in March, over the course and distance of his major win. With a stallion berth at Coolmore Australia already secured, he had one more mission to complete.
For that he travelled to Europe and joined the all-conquering Aidan O'Brien stable. Winning the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot was that target, but first he had a warm-up in the Group 2 Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh.
There was a possible hitch due to the weight he would have to carry in both races. When racing in the northern hemisphere he is counted as being a four-year-old as he was born before 1st January 2015. His actual date of birth is 14th November 2014, making him a late-season three-year-old in his native land, but not entitled to that weight allowance when running here. So, in effect, he was carrying penalties in both his European starts, which makes his performances more meritorious.
Calculating that based on what a three-year-old receives from an older horse at this time of the year is perhaps not the accurate way to do it as, again, he did it as a late-season three-year-old, just shy of being classed as a four-year-old in his home territory.
It was close, very close, and also quite fortunate given how the race went for the runner-up, but Merchant Navy held on by a short-head to take the Ascot feature from the French colt City Light, with American challenger Bound For Nowhere third and English runner The Tin Man fourth. Mission accomplished.
There was some brief speculation about whether or not he would remain a bit longer, to take up his entry in the Group 1 Darley July Cup at Newmarket, but that soon ended. Merchant Navy is in quarantine for a return trip to Australia.
His performance at the Curragh was an outstanding one. The race is for older horses and, rather than receive a weight allowance for being three, he not only met his rivals on their terms but had to give them 3lbs on top because of his Group 1 success in Australia.
Despite all of this, he beat Spirit Of Valor by a length, with Tasleet another length and a quarter back in third and an additional neck back to Brando in fourth.
So, Merchant Navy returns home with two notable European wins to his name, plus a Timeform rating of 126 and a profile that will make him an attractive prospect for breeders should he return in the spring as a reverse-shuttle stallion.
He was bred by Chris Barnham, and although there as aspects of the distaff side of his family that won't be familiar to many here, his sire needs no introduction.
Fastnet Rock (by Danehill) is one of the most successful of all the reverse-shuttle stallions and his global tally of 137 stakes winners includes 35 who have won at the highest level, including the European-trained Group 1 stars Diamondsandrubies, Fascinating Rock, Intricately, Laganore, Qualify, Rivet, and Zhukova.
All but two of that list are fillies, Fascinating Rock is a member of the stallion team at Ballylinch Stud, and this male line got another advertisement at the Curragh this afternoon when Urban Fox, a daughter of Australian Group 1 scorer Foxwedge (by Fastnet Rock) – who reverse-shuttled to Whitsbury Manor Stud for four seasons – sprang a surprise in the Group 1 Juddmonte Pretty Polly Stakes.
Merchant Navy is out of the Group 1-placed, Group 3-winning sprinter Legally Bay (by Snippets) and that makes him a full-brother to Jolie Bay. Also bred by Barnham, she was a short-head winner of the Group 2 Roman Consul Stakes over six furlongs at Randwick a month before chasing home Nechita in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes over the same trip at Flemington.
Their dam is among a string of winners produced from the seven-furlong and mile scorer Decidity (by Last Tycoon) and those siblings include three of note. The prolific Bonaria (by Redoute's Choice) won the Group 1 VRC Myer Classic over a mile, Time Out (by Rory's Jester) was a six-furlong Group 3 scorer as a juvenile, and four-time sprint winner Chatoyant (by Flying Spur) made her name at stud.
That mare's best are by stallions who are very familiar to those in this part of the world. Smart two-year-old Montsegur (by New Approach) won a five-and-a-half-furlong Group 3 at Caulfield and one over six furlongs at Flemington, whereas Tessera (by Medaglia d'Oro), who was stakes-placed at seven, got his best win in a five-and-a-half-furlong juvenile Group 3 contest at Rosehill.
Decidity was out of Class (by Twig Moss), which made her a half-sister to nine-furlong Group 2 scorer Classy Fella (by Kenmare) and what could be described as being a three-parts sister to 12-furlong Group 3 winner Vestey (by Last Tycoon).
It is not impossible that some of the talented future offspring of Merchant Navy will also stay that distance, although it seems likely – given his racing profile and the achievements of those most closely related to him – that he will mostly get sprinters and milers, along with some who will be effective at 10 furlongs.