There is room at the top for a champion sprinter this season and should Julie Camacho’s three-year-old Shaquille land the Pertemps Network July Cup, the odds are he would go a long way to claiming the title.
Winner of six of his seven races to date, he came from a hugely unpromising position to win the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, beating last year’s star juvenile Little Big Bear, despite losing plenty of ground at the start.
That is not the first time he has shown a quirk or two, although it certainly does not slow him down, but he will need to be on his best behaviour when taking on older horses for the first time as he attempts to emulate Muhaarar in winning the Commonwealth and July Cups back to back.
“Shaquille seems to be in great form and has come out of Royal Ascot well. We turned him out for three or four days and he started to get a bit fresh. He cantered on the Wednesday after Royal Ascot and he did a nice piece of work last Saturday and everything seems to be good,” said Camacho, who celebrated her first Group One win at Ascot.
“He’s lovely at home. Everybody sees him at the races and they think he’s this big, ignorant, horrible animal but he’s not! Paige Harrison, who looks after him at home and rides him at home, says he’d be quite happy to just walk up the six-furlong gallop, he just lobs along.”
Steve Brown, Camacho’s husband and assistant, said: “He is a horse who prefers to lead in his work. If you ask him to join a decent horse, he might not get there. He is relaxed and laid back.
“Each time he has raced, he’s got better. We were concerned how he would handle Royal Ascot, but when he first stepped on the track he hadn’t put a foot wrong and he hadn’t broken sweat which I was really pleased about to the point that when Oisin (Murphy) hacked away, I was actually worried he was too quiet but that didn’t reflect in his performance.
“We just hope he is maturing as we are going along. It has been a steady progression in the right direction with him and hopefully that will continue on Saturday.”
Murphy is suspended on Saturday while James Doyle, who rode him to two victories earlier in the season, is at Ascot, so Rossa Ryan comes in for the ride.
“Ascot was the first time he has started slowly in his life. He was first to load and had been sitting there a long time, so got a little bit impatient,” said Brown.
Ryan Moore was briefly in the frame for the ride after Aidan O’Brien raised some doubt about Little Big Bear’s participation. However, the rematch was confirmed on Thursday morning at declaration time.
O’Brien stated at the time everything would have to continue to go in the right direction after he suffered a stone bruise last week, causing him to miss six days of exercise.
Speaking early on Friday afternoon O’Brien said: “At the moment everything is going well with him.
“It hasn’t been ideal, obviously, but we’re happy enough.
“He just missed five or six days last week and we won’t know until he runs how much it has affected him.”
The July Cup was the one Group One in the UK that Frankie Dettori was missing on his CV and in his final year, Ralph Beckett’s Kinross had been identified as his last chance to win it.
Unfortunately for him, the suspension picked up at Royal Ascot means he is unable to retire with a full set of top-level races and he has been replaced by William Buick.
Owner Marc Chan’s racing manager Jamie McCalmont said: “William (Buick) is a more than capable substitute, but it was something we were really looking forward to (with Dettori) and sadly it just wasn’t meant to be.
“If we can get some rain that would increase his chance for sure, it would make a bit of a difference, I think.
“It’s a solid race, there’s three-year-olds racing against six-year-olds and there are a number Group One winners in the race. It’s a solid field.”