Shaq attack! Meet Shaquille, the sleepy speed king of contradictions who’s odds-on to follow his wins at Ascot and Newmarket with victory at the Group One Sprint Cup
- Shaquille aiming for another victory at the Group One Betfair Sprint Cup
- The horse has already won the Commonwealth Cup and July Cup this year
- A win at Haydock should secure him the title of Britain’s champion sprinter
The fascinating question hanging over Shaquille ahead of the Group One Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock is how good can he be if he executes the perfect race?
The odds-on favourite has already won the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket, prizes enough to secure him the title of Britain’s champion sprinter for 2023.
But it was the nature of those victories which made jaws drop. Both were achieved despite Shaquille fluffing the start and gifting his opponents half-a-dozen lengths.
It should have been game over but Shaquille is a rare talent and a bag of contradictions — and no one knows that better than trainer Julie Camacho and her husband, Steve Brown.
Quiet as a lamb in their Malton stable, Shaquille could politely be described as a handful when his blood is up on the track.
Shaquille goes into the Group One Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock as the odds-on favourite
He has already won the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket
Camacho said: ‘It’s funny. We have a two-year-old which is fat and lazy. One lad rides it all the time and he follows Shaquille. He says Shaquille is his lead horse. He goes his pace!’
Brown added: ‘He is pretty sleepy at home. If you saw him on the gallops, you wouldn’t be impressed.
‘His main weapon is his ability to run an even six furlongs and not decelerate. He is relentless. A lot of horses show speed, then decelerate. He keeps going. It’s the same as Usain Bolt in human sprinting terms. He wasn’t actually going quicker, he maintained his speed as the other slowed.’
No one could have predicted Shaquille would be so good for owner-breeder Martin Hughes. Trainer Hughie Morrison regarded eldest brother Sleight so devoid of ability that he was not even worth racing in the Hughes silks. He was right. Sleight has not managed a win in 19 starts.
Other brother Helpful has been beaten 46 and 78 lengths in his two National Hunt Flat races.
Ironically, that family tree and just hoping to win a small race on the northern circuit is one reason why Camacho feels she got to train Shaquille in the first place.
But it was clear early that Shaquille had talent and he was backed at fancy prices to make a winning York debut last July but blotted his copybook with a display of bad behaviour which left his groom with broken ribs.
Brown said: ‘It was a real shock and nothing like what we expected. I have never been racing with a horse which has behaved so badly.’
His unpredictable streak surfaced again when he refused to go into the starting stalls on All Weather Championship Finals day at Newcastle in April, blowing a winter’s worth of planning and preparation.
Another win this weekend will secure Shaquille the title of Britain’s champion sprinter for 2023
But despite those aberrations, his credit column far exceeds the debit one in the lives of Camacho and Brown.
Their business, which was already on an upward curve, has been taken to new levels with Camacho the first female Flat trainer in Britain to win more than £1million in prizemoney.
It is a stark contrast to 2002 when only four years after Julie took over the stable from her father, Maurice, she and Brown considered quitting the sport due to lack of success.
At the time, Brown, who both played and managed at semi-professional football level, was offered the job of assistant youth coach at York City. Turning it down at the time seemed madness but it has paid off in the end.
Brown said: ‘It is new to us at this level. I know things are different to how they have been. But the challenges are the same.
‘To get a horse on the track in the best form possible to represent the owner.’
Ahead of today’s race, Camacho and Brown have brought in Craig Witheford and Jake Launchbury, who specialise in building the confidence of racehorses with starting stalls issues.
The comfort blanket that Shaquille has been wearing in the stalls will now be removed seconds before they open. The hope is, with that signal, Shaquille will break on terms, something he did during practice sessions under jockey James Doyle.
Brown, who still helps out with York’s youth teams, added: ‘It worked at home. We saw what we wanted to see.
‘Can we guarantee it will work on Saturday? No but you can only prepare as best you can. Then you are in the lap of the gods.’
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