Tag Archive for: Steve Brown

‘Maverick’ Shaq knew just when to attack

It has been a stellar year that will live long in the memory of Julie Camacho, as Shaquille’s seismic rise to sprinting stardom catapulted the Yorkshire handler to the top of the sport.

The Star Cottage operation has always been respected when it comes to handling speedsters, Judicial’s longevity was the proof in that particular pudding.

However, in Shaquille, luck had brought a rare diamond to Camacho’s door and over the course of 2023, her team honed that burgeoning talent to perfection.

Little under two miles away from where John Quinn prepared Highfield Princess to thrive in 2022, the Malton air proved ripe for propelling another fledgling speedster to the highest level, as Shaquille went from unheralded handicapper to Group One superstar.

Julie Camacho has enjoyed a fine 2023
Julie Camacho has enjoyed a fine 2023 (Tim Goode/PA)

“Shaquille was wonderful and it culminated in the two Group Ones, which were obviously unexpected when you are starting a horse off in a handicap at the Guineas meeting,” said Camacho’s husband and assistant Steve Brown.

“It’s all been a bit of a blur and when it is not as busy and we are on holiday, we might sit down and reflect on what a fantastic year we’ve had.

“At the time, it’s on to the next day and you have got to be concerned about all of your horses, it’s just another day on the treadmill really.

“It’s been beyond our wildest dreams really and has moved our yard to another level. Obviously, there were other good results, like Significantly winning the Ayr Gold Cup, and it has been a wonderful year and we don’t really want it to end.”

It is fair to say that Shaquille had his own style of getting from A to B, often leaving connections and punters sweating at various points in a contest, but when the winning post approached, his athletic prowess would come to the fore and he was always at the peak of his powers when it mattered most.

“He’s a horse who is a little bit unconventional in his running style and at times has made life that little bit harder for himself, but ultimately everything stops with the result and the results were positive and there were some great days,” continued Brown.

“I think he is a really gifted athlete and time proved that. I think he has great capacity and a great ability to maintain his speed.

“Often, horses show speed for a certain amount of the race and then gradually wither away – but he could maintain his speed and I think he is a horse of great athletic ability, which he showed for most of his career.

“He was unconventional but very effective. We all love a maverick in life and I think he had a touch of that about him, but he certainly had plenty of brilliance on his day.”

The Shaquille team celebrating at Newmarket
The Shaquille team celebrating at Newmarket (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Despite winning three of his four two-year-old starts, there were few clues to suggest that over the next 12 months, Shaquille would develop into one of the season’s leading performers.

His three-year-old campaign got off to the worst possible start when withdrawn at the start on All-Weather Championship Finals Day, but once dominating a field of useful handicappers at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting, the momentum began to build and build before reaching a Group One crescendo during the height of summer.

“His rate of progression was unbelievable really and he stepped up to Listed and then to the Group Ones and he proved himself to be a very good horse and we really enjoyed the ride,” said Brown.

“When he won three of his four two-year-old races, he always looked very good but not to the level that we ended up racing at, we thought he would just be what you would call a ‘nice horse’ level, not a Group One horse.

Steve Brown congratulates Oisin Murphy after Shaquille wins the Commonwealth Cup
Steve Brown congratulates Oisin Murphy after Shaquille wins the Commonwealth Cup (John Walton/PA)

“He did catch us by surprise, but the one thing I have always said was when he would come back in after he won, he never came in tired, he was always a fresh horse afterwards.

“He always galloped out well after his races and you always felt there was more there, but at what level, we weren’t sure. It’s lovely when you can just progress a horse quietly through the grades with no pressure.”

There was soon no hiding place for Shaquille, as victory in Newbury’s Carnarvon Stakes left connections with little option but to take a shot at the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Even so, Camacho and Brown were still refusing to feel the pressure, as they set about enjoying rubbing shoulders with the best.

That laid-back approach seemed to be inherited by Shaquille himself, as he reared and then sat dozily in the stalls as the best three-year-old sprinters were already making their way up the Ascot straight.

Eventually getting into stride under Oisin Murphy, he worked his way back into the contest before his raw power took him past Aidan O’Brien’s big-race fancy Little Big Bear in the closing stages.

“He went from his novices to a handicap, to a Listed and then the programme book forced you up to Group One and we sort of thought it was worth a go,” explained Brown.

“We went to Ascot feeling no pressure, because the Coolmore horse was a hotpot and we just thought we would go and have a lovely time – and if he ran well, we would be delighted. Of course, it was such a great day, to win it was wonderful.”

Shaquille getting the better of Little Big Bear in the Commonwealth Cup
Shaquille getting the better of Little Big Bear in the Commonwealth Cup (David Davies/PA)

He went on: “It was a totally different feeling to the July Cup, because then you had expectation, whereas we were pretty cool at Royal Ascot and thought if we hit the frame, then everyone has had a great day out and we’ll go home still having a progressive horse.”

With a first Group One in the bank and a day to remember etched into the memory, the pressure Camacho and co declined to feel heading into Ascot suddenly weighed massively on their shoulders as Shaquille was tasked with backing up his impressive Commonwealth Cup in Newmarket’s July Cup.

He was sent of the 5-2 joint-favourite alongside his Ascot rival Little Big Bear and, while the Coolmore charge sank under the weight of expectation, the son of Charm Spirit grew in stature to deliver an utterly devastating display.

Again, Shaquille gave his rivals a glimmer of hope and all associated with him palpitations by rearing at the start and exiting the stalls in his own time.

However, whereas at Ascot he worked his way gradually into contention, this time around the colt carted his substitute rider Rossa Ryan to the head of proceedings and never let up as he galloped out to back-to-back big-race triumphs.

“Newmarket obviously came with pressure, but you also had the realisation that this can be achieved,” continued Brown.

“You have suddenly got a very good horse and it was sort of ‘why can’t we think we can go and win the July Cup’ – and fortunately he did.”

There was a sting to the tail in the Shaquille story, as he was unable to back up his Ascot and Newmarket heroics when bidding for a third Group One triumph in Haydock’s Sprint Cup.

It was the final time the champion sprinter was seen on a racecourse before heading off into retirement and stallion duties at Dullingham Park Stud, with that Merseyside flop the only black mark on his phenomenal journey to the top of the sprinting tree.

“We still never found a satisfactory explanation for that,” added Brown.

“The horses weren’t in good form and I suppose that is the most plausible reason, but I have it in the back of my mind that he put so much into Ascot and Newmarket and did that just have an effect on him on that day at Haydock.

“We will never know unfortunately, and the only shame is his career ended on a bit of a low, as the rest of it was magical.”

Shaquille disappointment ‘in the mystery column’

The Shaquille team remained puzzled on Sunday by their stable star’s uncharacteristic effort in the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock.

The Julie Camacho-trained colt has been superb all season, with a four-race winning streak including two Group One titles, in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket.

He missed the break on the latter two occasions and was schooled through the stalls at home to remedy the issue, with the session seeming to be a success and confidence high as he headed to Haydock as the 11-10 favourite.

Shaquille was taken to post early by James Doyle, who then had to dismount before the market leader entered the stalls.

This time he did not miss the break and led in the early stages, but as the race unfolded he faded abruptly two furlongs from home before he was eased up by Doyle, coming home last of the 16 starters.

He pulled up sound, with no obvious issues, leaving connections still looking for the cause of an inexplicably heavy defeat.

“Nothing has come to light immediately, he was fine post-race – he was sound and his heart rate was normal,” said Camacho’s assistant and husband, Steve Brown.

“He seems bright and breezy this morning, he’s his normal self, he’s pretty fresh and well if anything.

“It’s all a bit of a puzzle at this moment in time, we’ll take some more tests this week and see if we can find what was amiss.

“He obviously wasn’t himself, he didn’t run any sort of a race and James did the right thing and looked after him thankfully.”

“I’m sure something will come to the surface at some point, but at the minute it’s in the mystery column, I’m afraid.”

Shaquille heads for Sprint Cup after perfect preparation

Connections of Shaquille feel the popular colt’s preparation could not have gone any better ahead of his bid for a third successive Group One victory in the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Julie Camacho’s stable star has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the sprinting ranks, with a handicap win at Newmarket and a Listed success at Newbury followed by back-to-back wins at the highest level.

What makes the Shaquille story all the more intriguing is the fact that in both the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket he badly missed the break, only to stage two remarkable recoveries to reel in his rivals and in the end win comfortably.

With a recent session with starting stalls specialists Craig and Jake Witherford having gone smoothly, Camacho’s husband and assistant Steve Brown is hopeful he will jump off on terms on Merseyside.

He said: “The build-up for him has been smooth and we obviously did some stalls work with him a couple of weeks ago with Craig and Jake, and James (Doyle, jockey) came along.

“He’s a very straightforward horse at home, he doesn’t cause us any problems and his work has been to its usual standard, I would say. It’s been what we expected really.

“He looks really fit and well and everything has gone to plan. We planned four good bits of work, which he’s done, and we haven’t missed a day with him – I don’t think we can have any gripes about his preparation at all.

“He seems adaptable on different tracks. I suppose the nearest thing to Haydock we’ve had so far is probably Newbury and everything there went according to plan, so we hope for the same on Saturday.”

Trainer Julie Camacho following Shaquille's July Cup success
Trainer Julie Camacho following Shaquille’s July Cup success (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

While Brown’s heart is likely to be racing after Shaquille is loaded into the stalls ahead of his latest attempt at top-level success, he is doing his best to keep cool in the meantime.

He added: “There’s plenty happening before Saturday and every horse is of the same importance and value, so you’ve just got to go about your business as normal and then when the time comes you just have to hope everything goes smoothly and he puts in a good performance, which we know he’s capable of.

“You’d rather we had a conventional situation, but we haven’t in his last two races. We’ve acknowledged that we had a problem, we’ve tried to do something about it, we’re pleased with what happened at home and we hope to see that on the track on the day.”

Karl Burke’s Spycatcher and the George Boughey-trained Believing have both been declared to carry the colours of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, although the former is unlikely to run unless the rain arrives.

Having won two Listed races and a Group Three this season, Believing was supplemented at a cost of £20,000 on Monday, with her connections happy to roll the dice.

“She’s very versatile and she’s very quick. It looks like it’s going to be quick ground and she is fast,” said Highclere’s managing director Harry Herbert.

“We wouldn’t necessarily have considered this race at the first entry stage, but with the way she is now and the way she’s improving, we were keen to give it a go.

“It was a lot of money for the shareholders to shell out (to supplement), but she’s earned plenty of prize-money, her value is significant and we felt that with nothing else obvious to have a pop at, we should have a go.

“It will be very exciting to see how she gets on.”

Jamie Spencer and Khaadem after winning at Royal Ascot
Jamie Spencer and Khaadem after winning at Royal Ascot (John Walton/PA)

A competitive field also includes the first and second from the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes in Khaadem and Sacred.

The Charlie Hills-trained Khaadem was a shock 80-1 winner at the Royal meeting and has since finished out of the places in the July Cup and the Nunthorpe at York, but Hills is looking forward to seeing him return to six furlongs on fast ground.

He said: “He looks tremendous and great in himself and with all those sprints you just need a bit of luck, but I think the ground will suit him really well.”

Other hopefuls include Archie Watson’s Wokingham winner Saint Lawrence, the Ralph Beckett-trained Lezoo, Henry Candy’s July Cup runner-up Run To Freedom and Regional from Ed Bethell’s yard.

Regional (centre) has already won at Haydock twice
Regional (centre) has already won at Haydock twice (Nigel French/PA)

The latter came up a little short when fifth in the Nunthorpe last month, but is two from two at Haydock and his trainer is excited to be stepping back up in trip from five to six furlongs.

He said: “We’re looking forward to having a crack at it. It’s a full field and a wide-open race.

“It’ll be a tough race and any one of them could win it. If Shaquille turns up, I’d say we’re all playing for a place, but outside of him we’re all there with a big chance of finishing in the money.”

Shaquille ready to begin Sprint Cup prep

Julie Camacho’s July Cup winner Shaquille will begin fast work this weekend as he gears up for the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Winner of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, the Charm Spirit three-year-old followed up with a second Group One success at Newmarket to take his record to seven wins from eight starts.

Steve Brown, Camacho’s husband and assistant, says there has been plenty of big-money interest from potential suitors for the champion sprinter-elect, although any decision will be left to co-owner and joint-breeder Martin Hughes.

Winning connections with Shaquille and jockey Rossa Ryan at Newmarket
Winning connections with Shaquille and jockey Rossa Ryan at Newmarket (David Davies for The Jockey Club)

“There has been lots of interest in him,” he admitted. “We have directed that down to Martin. He’s waded through it and I think he’s keen to do something more towards the end of the year, really.

“He said pretty early on it was something we’d discuss at the end of the year and we should just get on and enjoy the racing for now in the short term.

“There are lots of scenarios, but he’s been wonderful whatever happens.”

Shaquille has taken his length-and-a-half defeat of Run To Freedom in his stride and the team at Malton in North Yorkshire are now eyeing a Group One treble on September 9.

“Shaquille is in really good form. We purposely gave him a quiet couple of weeks after Newmarket which was always the plan,” added Brown.

“He has been grateful of that I think. He looks well and it has freshened him up. He was pretty quiet for a week there and gradually you could see he was getting over things. He has regrouped nicely and is back cantering.

“We are very pleased with him. He is a very straightforward horse at home and he will do his first bit of fast work on Saturday.

“We are all systems go to Haydock and we’re looking forward to it.

“He unfortunately gives himself a little bit of a tougher time than he might have if he was a little bit more conventional in his use of energy, but he doesn’t.

“He has a great will and a great way of getting the job done. He’s a determined sort of horse, but it is not always as conventional as it might be.”

Options remain open for the colt after the Sprint Cup, although the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot is a more likely option than heading to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup.

“I would think the obvious route would be to go to Champions Day,” said Brown. “We’ve obviously had a little bit of interest in the possibility of going abroad this year, but I think we will be staying at home and probably go to Ascot.

Shaquille gave jockey Rossa Ryan his first Group One success
Shaquille gave jockey Rossa Ryan his first Group One success (David Davies/PA)

“We’ll go a step at a time, but it will have been a long year by then and he’s still three-year-old and we have to be mindful of that.

“The Breeders’ Cup has been mentioned, but the thing you’d be slightly guarded about at the minute is he’s slow-starting.

“The gate-speed of the Americans, they are so quickly away that I think we’d be at a real disadvantage there.

“The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is five (furlongs) and the dirt is six – we’d probably want it the other way round.

“But we’ll take a step at a time and we’ll know more after Haydock and go from there. You have to keep an open mind.”

Shaquille team anticipating late call on July Cup jockey

A decision on who rides Pertemps Network July Cup favourite Shaquille is unlikely to be made until minutes before declaration time on Thursday morning.

With former champion jockey Oisin Murphy, who partnered him to a remarkable success in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, suspended, James Doyle, who rode him to win his two previous races, had been next in the frame.

However, Doyle is required at Ascot by his principal employer Godolphin so a rider has yet to be confirmed, but it will come as no surprise that trainer Julie Camacho and her husband and assistant Steve Brown have been inundated with offers.

“There has been lots of interest from people interested in riding him,” said Brown.

“We are obviously waiting to see who is available. Oisin (Murphy) wasn’t booked until 9.50am on Thursday when he won on him at Royal Ascot and Martin (Hughes, co-owner and breeder) is quite relaxed about waiting until Thursday morning and seeing who is available.”

One man who may be free is Ryan Moore, with the participation of his intended mount Little Big Bear described as only 50-50 by Aidan O’Brien on Monday.

“Martin used to have horses based in the south in the past and has dealt with a lot of jockeys, so he said we’ll have a conversation on Thursday morning after we have seen who has been declared,” said Brown.

Steve Brown greets Oisin Murphy after the Commonwealth Cup
Steve Brown greets Oisin Murphy after the Commonwealth Cup (John Walton/PA)

“James is going to Ascot to ride for Godolphin, we do know that, which is a shame for us because it made things incredibly easy.

“It has always been a bit of a topic of conversation with this horse as he has run seven times and had four different jockeys, but the guys have managed superbly well and hopefully it will be the same on Saturday.”

When it was put to Brown that Moore may be available, he said: “It’s a possibility isn’t it, but we need to let their situation finalise before that discussion can take place. We’re aware that may be a possibility.”

Shaquille’s remarkable win at Ascot, when he gave away at least five lengths by fly-jumping out of the stalls, was a first Group One success for Camacho and Brown and they have been surprised by the level of goodwill which has come their way since.

Brown said: “It’s a great feeling. Jules was saying yesterday when we were coming down to Newmarket how many good wishes we’ve had since Royal Ascot and how pleased people are for us, as we are small to medium-sized training operation. People have been so kind and that’s been such a nice surprise.

“We are looking forward to Saturday. It will be a different sort of pressure as it looks like we are going to start favourite, whereas at Ascot Little Big Bear was a short-priced favourite and we went there slightly under the radar.

“So it’s different from that perspective, but you’ve got to deal with it and what a lovely position to be and what a great position to be in – to have a favourite for a Group One race.”

Camacho ‘speechless’ as Shaquille shoots and scores

A pre-dawn wake up call and a fumbled start could not prevent Shaquille from securing a landmark success for connections in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

The three-year-old was homebred by his co-owner Martin Hughes and is trained counties away in Norton, North Yorkshire, by Julie Camacho.

He was loaded into the gates a 9-1 chance for the six-furlong Group One, middling odds that began to look far too short as he bounced upwards in his stall instead of outwards and let the field gain lengths on him from the off.

A little mischief has never been beyond the bay, who had only been beaten once prior to the Royal meeting but has looked a handful on both sides of the starter’s rostrum.

The phrase ‘pulled hard’ and ‘took a keen hold’ appear in the descriptions of almost all of his races, but under Oisin Murphy he was able to settle into a rhythm at the rear of the pack as the jostling took place ahead of him.

Shaquille galloping to Group One glory
Shaquille galloping to Group One glory (David Davies/PA)

A few furlongs in he was gaining ground and looked like he might run into a place, but once he began to gun for Little Big Bear, the leader and 10-11 favourite, he dug deeper and deeper still to triumph by a length and a quarter.

The victory is hugely significant for Camacho and her husband and assistant Steve Brown, whose greatest success beforehand was the Group Three honours gained by Judicial, another sprinter, in the Chipchase Stakes and the Coral Charge.

“I watched it on my own, I was very nervous actually. I started to feel a bit sick and very nervous!” she said.

Of his steady start, the trainer added: “I thought well that’s it, isn’t it? He’s blown his chance. I’ve just watched it live and I’d like to go back and watch it properly but he was good, wasn’t he?

“It’s massive, we never thought we’d train a Group One winner, not at Royal Ascot anyway. For Martin (Hughes) it’s massive, he bred him, he’s got his mother at home and his siblings. Dad (Maurice, former trainer) looks after the stud and I’m sure he was screaming at home.

Shaquille (left) under rider Oisin Murphy
Shaquille (left) under rider Oisin Murphy (David Davies/PA)

“When he started to run on I thought ‘oh he’s going to be place, he’s going to run a big race’.

“Then ‘oh my god, he’s going to win!’. I’m a bit speechless actually.”

Camacho, who does not seek out the limelight, reluctantly went up to collect the trophy as Brown pondered how good the horse could be with a neat start and a smooth passage.

He said: “I still maintain that we haven’t brought him racing and seen him do everything right, it’s fascinating. We’re enjoying the journey and hoping for a few more, he’s in the July Cup.

“It’s a good story. You come hoping, don’t you? We’re all dreamers and you’ve got to be in this game. We fed him at three o’clock this morning so he could have a smooth journey down, we didn’t want to bring him overnight as he’s never stayed overnight. We wanted him to sleep in his own bed and he left at quarter past four this morning.

“I think the making of him has been a paddock for him, every evening stables now he’s turned out and it’s just brought such a change about in him.

“He wouldn’t have walked around the paddock like he did before, he just goes out there and puts his head down – it’s made a huge difference to him and though it’s punchy for a colt, I’m so glad we did it.”

Shaquille poised to shoot for Commonwealth crown

Julie Camacho’s Shaquille is Royal Ascot bound after his smart success in the Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury.

The Charm Spirit colt has done little wrong in six runs so far, winning five of those outings and looking to takes strides forward each time.

He began this year with a handicap victory at Newmarket, prevailing by two and three-quarter lengths despite a less than perfect run, and he was then a comfortable victor when making the running in the Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury.

Having taken that Listed race by two lengths, another step up in class beckons as the colt is likely to to take his place in next month’s Group One Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Steve Brown, Camacho’s husband and assistant, said: “He taken his exertions well from the weekend, he’s had a few quiet days but he’ll be back in full exercise by the end of the week.

“The next obvious option is to go to Ascot with him for the Commonwealth Cup, we’re pleased with what he’s doing as he seems to be settling into his racing and showing a bit more maturity.

“He keeps finding a bit of improvement, so at the minute we feel as though that’s the right option. We’ll ask him for a little bit more and see what he’s got to say.

“Saturday will be informative at Haydock (the Sandy Lane Stakes), we’ll see what comes out of that.”

Shaquille made all at Newbury
Shaquille made all at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA)

Shaquille, who was bred by one of his co-owners and is by a Galileo mare in Magic, has impressed connections not only in his ability on the track but also with a constitution that seems to thrive on racing.

Brown said: “The fascinating thing with this horse is that he never comes home tired, he always comes home and says ‘well that was OK, what are we doing next?’.

“He had a long day, he travelled down to Newbury and back in a day and within an hour he’d eaten his tea up and he was ready to do whatever you asked of him next.”