Merchant Navy is likely to be given his chance at a Group One race in Sydney after a scoring a comfortable midweek victory at Sandown.
After he won a Pakenham maiden in early March, trainer Ciaron Maher immediately had Group One aspirations for the colt.
Merchant Navy didn’t gain a start as an emergency in last Saturday’s Group One Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick and instead contested the Nick Johnstone Real Estate Handicap (1400m) at Sandown on Wednesday.
Now the Group One Champagne Stakes (1600m) at Randwick on April 15 is the target.
Ridden by Mark Zahra, Merchant Navy was sent out the $1.50 favourite before scoring by a length from Platinum ($10) with Bunker Buster ($21) 1-1/2 lengths away third.
Although Merchant Navy was expected to record an easier victory, Maher’s assistant David Eustace said there was considerable improvement in the colt.
“He travelled really well but it looks like he doesn’t know how to put them to bed just yet,” Eustace said.
“It was only his second start and most of his work has been on the bridle.
“He’s done a few things wrong on the track before and I think it will take a bit of time and a few runs before he knows what it’s all about.”
While the win may have looked sluggish, Zahra said there was merit in the performance.
Settling in third place, Merchant Navy gained a split soon after straightening, taking the lead before the 400m mark.
“He hit the front a fair way out and there was a lot for him to look at,” Zahra said.
“Every time I’d ask him to quicken he would wait a bit but overall I thought he did a good job.
“I reckon if I could have had a couple to chase he would have looked better.
“I think he won OK but he’s still got a lot to learn.”
Wednesday’s meeting was also a pipe-opener for Matthew Hill who called a couple of races on the program.
Hill was last month appointed the feature race caller in Victoria to replace the retiring Greg Miles who calls his last race at Caulfield on April 15.