All eyes on Little Big Bear in Commonwealth Cup

Little Big Bear sets an exacting standard in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on Friday.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the No Nay Never colt and he has so far largely lived up to the billing, winning five of his first seven starts.

He edged the Windsor Castle Stakes at this meeting last year, while a stunning display in the Phoenix Stakes on what proved to be his final juvenile start ensured he was crowned champion European two-year-old.

A line can be put through a disappointing run in a soft ground 2000 Guineas and he is better judged on his facile success under Frankie Dettori in last month’s Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock.

Little Big Bear is 10lb clear of his rivals on his return to Group One level and will be a warm order to provide O’Brien with a second Commonwealth Cup following the triumph of Caravaggio in 2017.

O’Brien said: “Everything has gone well since Haydock.

“We were keen to give him a race back sprinting before taking him to Ascot and Haydock fitted in well.

“We’ve been happy with everything he has done since.”

The biggest threat to the hot favourite appears to be the Roger Varian-trained Sakheer.

The son of Zoffany was much the best in last season’s Mill Reef at Newbury and like Little Big Bear contested last month’s 2000 Guineas, in which he was beaten seven lengths into seventh place.

Varian, who has already been among the winners this week, expects to see his charge in a better light as he drops back in distance on a sounder surface.

“The stiff six furlongs on what looks like it should be decent ground should suit him,” said the Newmarket handler.

“We’re really happy with the horse. He’s been good since the Guineas and he looks like he is peaking at the right time.

“He had an easy time after the Guineas and we were always going to come to Ascot, but he’s built up over the last few weeks into this race nicely, his work has been on point, he’s been really well and we’re hopeful.

“He actually ran well in the Guineas, but it was a mess of a race for us. He looked very good over six furlongs last year and the plan was always to come to this race when the Guineas didn’t work out.

“He looks like he could still be a high-class colt, we certainly believe he can be, and we’re looking forward to Friday.”

The Ralph Beckett-trained filly Lezoo has a similar profile, having won last season’s Cheveley Park Stakes over six furlongs but unable to land a blow over a mile in the 1000 Guineas.

Jamie McCalmont, racing manager for part-owner Marc Chan, said: “It’s a very good race and probably the best Commonwealth Cup there has been I would say, there’s no soft spot there.

“To be in the first three I would be very happy in this race.”

Shaquille has won his last four starts for Julie Camacho and connections are happy to roll the dice in this higher grade.

“We’re happy with his preparation, it has all gone smoothly, and he goes there with a progressive profile. We’re looking forward to it,” said the trainer’s husband and assistant, Steve Brown.

“We’ve had to change jockey because James (Doyle) has been claimed by Godolphin (rides Noble Style), but we’re still in very good hands with Oisin (Murphy), so we’re comfortable with that.

“He needs to find another level, but he keeps finding a bit race by race so we hope he can run a nice race for everyone.”

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