It only seemed fitting that a royally bred colt by champion sire Fastnet Rock should win the $1million Group I VRC Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington on Saturday.
Unbeaten in winning his first four starts, Merchant Navy (3c Fastnet Rock x Legally Bay, by Snippets) was sent to Sydney earlier in the spring for the Group I ATC Golden Rose, but endured a troubled run to finish tenth to Trapeze Artist.
Connections regrouped and while his trainer Ciaron Maher was sent to the sidelines as a result of suspension, Aaron Purcell stepped in to take over the colt and a new plan was formulated.
“We had a lot of discussion after the Golden Rose as to whether to go for the Guineas or Coolmore, which was ultimately thought to be the better option,” said Aaron Purcell, whose decision proved justified.
In a big field of 20, Merchant Navy was allowed to find his feet in the 1200 metre sprint and charged to the line along the fence for Mark Zahra to win by a head over high class fillies Invincible Star and Formality.
“I just waited and waited,” said an elated Mark Zahra.
“I thought I’d run out of time!
“It was a great decision not to go to the Guineas. They freshened him up, put the blinkers on and dropped him back in trip. It was great planning from Aaron Purcell and his team.”
A $350,000 Inglis Easter purchase from the Segenhoe Stud draft for Ciaron Maher Racing, Merchant Navy is a full brother to Group II winner Jolie Bay and stakes-placed Zara Bay.
With five wins from six starts and prizemoney just shy of $1million, Merchant Navy is raced by a syndicate that includes Darren Thomas’s Seymour Bloodstock, who tasted success earlier in the day when winning the Group III VRC Carbine Club Stakes with Pierro colt Levendi.
“There’s a great bunch of owners in this horse including Peter O’Brien (Segenhoe) and the Coolmore boys,” Thomas said.
“I’m speechless. To have a winner earlier in the day and now this, it’s just awesome!”
Bred by Chris Barham and foaled and raised at Segenhoe, Merchant Navy is one of six winners from the good producing Snippets Group III winner Legally Bay, a half-sister to Group I winner Bonaria, who won the VRC Myer Classic on this day in 2014.