James Doyle is relishing the prospect of being reunited with Shaquille as Julie Camacho’s speedball goes for a Group One hat-trick in the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday.
Doyle rode the Charm Spirit colt in his first two starts of a whirlwind three-year-old campaign, winning a Newmarket handicap before taking the Listed Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury.
The jockey’s Godolphin commitments meant he missed out on riding Shaquille in the Commonwealth Cup and the July Cup when he completed a huge double, with Oisin Murphy on board at Royal Ascot and Rossa Ryan in the plate at Newmarket’s July Festival.
On both occasions he missed the break – rocking backwards in the stalls as they opened – and it is a measure of his remarkable ability that he still managed to recover and ultimately reel in his rivals at Ascot and Newmarket after giving them a significant head start.
Doyle is now free to take the ride again and following a pleasing stalls session at Camacho’s North Yorkshire base last month, with specialist horsemen Craig and Jake Witherford on hand to assist as a stalls rug was used, the leading rider is optimistic his big-race mount can cement his status as the season’s top speedster.
“I went to sit on him during York week and we just popped him in the stalls on the Malton gallops there,” he said on a press call organised by QIPCO British Champions Series.
“It was nice to sit on him at home, the guys have all said he’s completely different at home which was kind of hard to imagine.
“It was nice to experience that, he really is a calm and collected character in his own environment, it was nice to see him like that.”
Doyle added: “On the track he’s great in the prelims, he’s really grown up in that regard. He’s been foot perfect in terms of going to post, really relaxed and doing all those things right.
“In the stalls he can get a bit tricky and he’s just bunny-hopped out the last twice but thankfully the twice I’ve ridden him he’s actually broken fairly cleanly.
“On the track he’s a big, boisterous sprinter who knows he’s quick and he wants to be fast, whereas at home he knows his environment, he knows his routine and he’s so relaxed.
“The other week we popped out of the gates the first time and I had to squeeze away to get him to do even a half speed. The second time we jumped out was upsides another horse and I had to ask him to go past horses. He is a complete puppy dog at home.”
Doyle is hopeful that the schooling will ease Shaquille’s difficulties at the start, though of course the horse has demonstrated that a steady start is not enough to stop him from winning Group One races.
He said: “Going into Saturday the weight-for-age allowance is catching up with us – he got 6lb off the older horses in the July Cup and that’s brought back to 2lb. That does tighten things up, but you pray that you can jump off and get a clean start.
“Do I think he could still do it if he missed the break and gave them a bit of a lead early on? I genuinely believe in the engine this horse has, but it would certainly make things a lot trickier given we’re not getting so much weight.”
Naturally Doyle was disappointed not to be on board during Shaquille’s two previous wins and followed him home at Royal Ascot as his mount, Charlie Appleby’s Noble Style, finished ninth behind him.
The rider could not look on so closely in the July Cup as he was required to ride at Ascot and therefore had to rely on updates from the stalls handlers whilst he prepared to load for another race.
“It was tough. In the lead up to Ascot it looked like we would only run one horse in the Commonwealth and it looked like I’d be free, I remember being really excited for him and documented in the media that he was my best ride of the week,” he said.
“I was so delighted (when he won), I remember after the line catching up with him to gave him a pat on the head. I know how much this means to Julie and her whole team, they’re nervous before he runs and they’re elated when he wins – they really show all the emotions that make this sport so great.
“I didn’t get a chance to watch the race live at Newmarket, but when I cantered to the start (at Ascot) I asked the guys down at the stalls what happened and the first thing I heard was that he’d missed the break by five lengths and then they said he absolutely bolted up. I thought ‘well, he’s some machine’!”
Whilst Doyle is regaining the ride on Shaquille, next week he will miss out on partnering last season’s 1000 Guineas heroine Cachet when she is scheduled to make her long awaited return in the Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster, as he is otherwise engaged.
“I have spoken to George (Boughey) and I’ve seen pictures of Cachet and she looks in great form,” he said.
“Unfortunately I’m on duty that weekend, Martin Harley is getting married on the Sunday after the Leger so I’ll be over at Adare Manor for Martin’s wedding.
“It will be really sad to miss out on the ride but I think Martin would kill me if I wasn’t there!”