Saturday July 15 2023, 8.27pm, The Sunday Times
At 7ft 1in and 150kg, Shaquille O’Neal had a bulk to match his massive basketball talent. Shaquille the three-year-old thoroughbred is 400kg heavier but the way he took apart the July Cup at Newmarket on Saturday proves him worthy of O’Neal’s legendary name.
The big bay, whose trainer Julie Camacho describes him as a “peaceful darling” at home, is a hooded, ready-to-explode monster on the track. Rossa Ryan cantered him very gently to the stalls, where the fabled horseman Craig Witheford took him away from the others before loading without fuss. So far, so good, but when the gates whacked open, Shaquille reared up rather than leapt out. It put him last of the eight runners when the grey Art Power set off in front.
For a dozen strides, Ryan had the favourite under lock but then the brakes failed and as Shaquille tore up to the leader you felt that he would burn out, as he did last August at York. Eleven months can do a lot for a young athlete and this horse has learnt not to blaze it all at once.
Ryan who was riding a well-earned first group one winner, had his stick up to maintain the tempo a furlong and a half out but the attrition of two early sub 11-second furlongs had bottomed out the opposition. Everyone was just hanging on as Shaquille ground out a final 13-second fraction, Art Power weakening and the 5-2 joint-favourite Little Big Bear fading to finish last. Kinross looked a threat before ceding second place to the 28-1 shot Run To Freedom.
Camacho modestly talked about being “overwhelmed” by this success but she and her husband, Steve Browne, have little to be modest about. The one easy thing in racing is to make decisions that ruin a horse’s future; the more powerful and volatile the animal the easier that is. But she and Steve have tempered the fire that burns within and deserve all the big opportunities the season now holds ahead.
Earlier, in the bet365 Superlative Stakes, City Of Troy left his rivals six lengths adrift, showing that he is very much the latest would-be superstar from Aidan O’Brien’s seemingly endless supply over in Tipperary. City Of Troy had flown in with Little Big Bear in the morning and from the way O’Brien was talking afterwards, you wonder if the colt might not have been able to spread his wings and fly home by himself.
“He’s most unusual,” the trainer said after debriefing an uncharacteristically ebullient Ryan Moore in the unsaddling enclosure. “Unusual in his temperament, his stride, his stamina. He is very exciting.” We have, of course, heard this sort of thing before, but this is a lovely colt.
City Of Troy’s are as yet mere sapling hopes; Shaquille’s are of the mighty kind. From the way he battled on Saturday, they may get mightier yet.