By Ray Hickson
Jockey Mark Zahra rates unbeaten colt Merchant Navy as one of the best three-year-olds in Melbourne and is confident his form can stack up against Sydney’s best in the Golden Rose on Saturday.
There’s been plenty of debate about which state’s three-year-olds are stronger this spring and Merchant Navy will be an interesting yardstick as he faces off with Menari and Pariah.
The colt, trained by Ciaron Maher, returned with a win in the Group 3 McNeil Stakes at Caulfield beating Booker, who has since run third behind Catchy and Jukebox in the Danehill Stakes.
Aside from Royal Symphony, as Zahra points out, that’s right up there with the best Victorian form.
“He’s done all he can in Melbourne and it’s going to be his biggest test to date,’’ Zahra said.
“Any horse has to be good to win four out of four but I think he’s pretty good and he’s still learning.
“Apart from Royal Symphony he’s been one of the most exciting three-year-old colts. The two form lines go head to head, the Menari/Pariah form, so I guess we’ll find out after Saturday which one is stronger.’’
Interestingly, Merchant Navy has been housed at Menari’s trainer Gerald Ryan’s Rosehill stable since he arrived in Sydney and had a course proper gallop on Tuesday.
Zahra said Merchant Navy’s inside barrier in the Group 1 $1m Golden Rose (1400m) is a real boost to his chances given his experience on some Victorian horses having their first Sydney start.
But he warned that Merchant Navy, who has already won twice at 1400m, is unlikely to have the early speed to take full advantage of barrier two.
“When you’re a Melbourne horse going the Sydney way I think it’s imperative you get an inside draw,’’ Zahra said.
“I’ve ridden horses their first time drawn wide and they never get on their right leg and you end up the whole race trying to get them around the bend.
“I’m hoping to be midfield but we definitely won’t be on speed, he doesn’t have that sort of toe.
“I might need a little bit of luck at the right time but I’d definitely prefer to draw in and get around nicely than draw out and not get around at all.’’
Zahra is no stranger to Group 1 success at Rosehill, he partnered Eskimo Queen to victory in the Coolmore Classic in 2008.