Julie Camacho concedes that her preferred way to celebrate a big win with husband Steve Brown is stopping at a service station for an egg sandwich, a low-key habit that hasn’t changed despite training Shaquille to Group 1 success in both the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and the July Cup at Newmarket this summer.
Training the season’s top sprinter could have meant the regular sound of champagne corks popping at Camacho’s Star Cottage stable, next door to Malton and Norton Golf Club, but old habits die hard.
“We are just used to grafting – I am quite happy without the limelight,” says Camacho.
But the reality is things have changed significantly as the Camacho stable looks forward to another top-level shot with Shaquille in the Haydock Sprint Cup on September 9.
The operation was already on an upward curve. Last season – Camacho’s 25th with a training licence – she landed a personal best with 47 winners, not far from double her previous highest seasonal tally.
Shaquille’s wins have now ensured Camacho has become the first female British Flat trainer to win over £1 million in a season.
Brown says: “It is certainly different. We have moved the yard to a different level, which is great. It is what you strive for and why everyone works hard.
“You hope these horses might come along. There is a little bit of satisfaction from that, but my view is that you are always pushing forward and looking for your next runner. It doesn’t matter what level – it is trying to get the best out of every horse we have.”
Camacho’s name may be on the trainer’s licence, but this operation is very much a partnership.
Julie, 56, who gained work experience with William Jarvis in Newmarket and Sally Hall in Middleham, says: “Really we should have a joint licence, but Steve has never done his modules and it’s a pain in the backside to do them.
“The licence was in my [maiden] name in the first place because Jeannie Brown was training in Malton when I started, and it was just going to get too complicated to have two Mrs J Browns training in the town.”
Steve, 55, who learnt the ropes from a clutch of trainers including Brian Ellison, Jimmy Fitzgerald and Luca Cumani, adds: “Not being on the licence doesn’t bother me at all. It has been a bit more of a chore this year to explain to people what the structure is, but most people pick it up quite quickly.”
Julie and Steve may not enjoy shouting about their successes but there is tangible action that has emerged from their recent run. Adverts for an assistant trainer to join the operation “where quality and numbers continue to rise” ran last month and a new appointment will be made shortly.
Steve says: “We want to improve the structure. Me and Jules are too hands-on and getting older. We still want to be as close to the horses as much as possible, but there are certain things we could let go.
“We also want to do the job better. For all it is going fine, I am a great believer that it could always be better, no matter what you are doing. People come in with new energy and new ideas and want to work with you.
“We don’t want a huge amount more horses. We are comfortable with the numbers we have got but we want better horses for our owners. If horses are on the move now, we are in the mix for them and get more phone calls.
“There has definitely been more interest in the yard with people asking about yearlings. That is maybe a result of what Shaquille has done.”
The current situation is in stark contrast to where Julie and Steve found themselves just over 20 years ago when, rather than advertising for new members to join their team, it looked like their staff would have to find new jobs.
Julie had taken over the family stable from her father Maurice in 1998 but with only 15 horses on the books and limited success – they had only 18 wins in four seasons from 2001 to 2004 – the operation seemed unviable, especially with a young family to support.
In May 2001, the local Gazette & Herald ran a story under the headline ‘End of an era for the Camacho family’, with Julie explaining that their training operation would finish when the turf Flat season ended in November.
It really would have been the end of an era. Maurice had trained for 24 years, following his stepfather Charlie Hall who had started training in 1942.
Maurice’s big wins included Clear Cut in the 1975 Mackeson Gold Cup, while stable stalwart Avro Anson, who ran in the Grand National for both Maurice and Julie, was agonisingly disqualified after passing the post first in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the 1994 Cheltenham Festival.
Julie recalls: “You felt you were working hard and long hours, which we still are now, but now we are having more success. We didn’t have many horses, not enough anyway.”
Steve, who both played and managed in semi-professional football and still coaches when time allows, helping with the youth teams at York City, adds: “You couldn’t see the wood for the trees. The rewards weren’t there, and you were asking yourself why [you were doing it]. Was it better just to go and work for someone else and have a lot less stress?
“I had the opportunity at the same time to go into football coaching. I was offered the job as assistant youth coach at York, but we decided to do the horses instead, which was madness!
“Football is a volatile industry, but it is a lot easier. Those lads are having an early day when they start at 9.30am. We have done half our day by then – they will do an hour and a half and go home.”
Nowadays, there are just over 60 horses in training at Star Cottage and, while a few boxes might be added, the focus is on upping the quality.
So, what changed their minds and made them stick at it?
“It was probably like a lot of trainers, a question of what else do you do?” Julie explains. “I think a lot of trainers carry on for that reason, hoping that the next good horse is going to come. We had [12-time winner] Tessajoe. Where do you want her to go to be trained? It is not easy to let go.
“We are also very lucky in that the family own the yard. If we were paying big rent it would have been much tougher. Training is all I have ever known and wanted to do. Mum kept something I did at primary school where I said I wanted to train racehorses. I probably wasn’t clever enough to do anything else.
“After I left school I went to secretarial college for a week and hated it.”
Rio Riva, who won five times and was second in the 2007 Lincoln Handicap, was a star for the stable, while the big standard-bearer in recent years has been Judicial.
He’d run four times and won three races when he was switched from the Roger Charlton stable by Elite Racing after being gelded.
Under the care of the couple who have two daughters, Sam, 22, and Steph, 17, Judicial, who was regarded as wayward when he joined the North Yorkshire outfit, has won 15 of his 52 races, including the 2018 Coral Charge at Sandown and the 2020 Chipchase Stakes at Newcastle, both Group 3 races. At 11 years old he is still going.
Steve says: “Judicial has been amazing. You get more confidence and belief that we can handle a good horse and put them on the right track and get them there on the given day in the top form to win.”
That belief has served them well with Shaquille, but his path to the top has been both unexpected and eventful.
On paper, you would not have bet much on Shaquille winning a seller let alone a Group 1 for his owner-breeder Martin Hughes, who races the colt in partnership with friends Peter Rawlings and Michael O’Shaughnessy.
His oldest brother Sleight, by Showcasing, was originally in training with Hughie Morrison, who told Hughes he wasn’t good enough to race in his colours. He was right. Sleight didn’t manage a win in 19 starts for trainer Iain Jardine.
Shaquille’s other brother Helpful, by Oasis Dream, has also been moved on from the Hughes string having been beaten 46 lengths when finishing last of ten in a Warwick bumper in May for trainer Paul Webber.
Steve explains: “I reckon they thought they’d leave the next one in the north hoping to win a little race. I think that is how we ended up with Shaquille.”
It also helped that Hughes has threes mares with the Camacho operation and is advised on mating plans by Maurice and Julie’s brother, Matt.
Born at nearby Battlefield Stud, Shaquille – who is by Charm Spirit, now standing for €5,000 at Haras du Logis Saint-Germain in Normandy – was back in a paddock outside the Camacho kitchen window within a week of being born.
Those paddocks are now home to his Cable Bay yearling colt brother, while dam Magic, a Galileo mare, also has an Iffraaj colt foal.
It is hoped they take after Shaquille, ability-wise at least. Quiet as a lamb largely at home, Shaquille becomes a coiled spring at the track with a neat impression of a caged tiger, as he showed on his winning debut at York in July last year when he also broke a rib of his groom.
Brown recalls: “He was horrendous. I have never been racing with a horse who has behaved as badly. I was embarrassed.
“Shaquille was pretty sleepy at home so looked like a horse who would get seven furlongs or a mile. If you saw him on the gallops, A, you wouldn’t be impressed and B, you would think how relaxed he is.
“He was 125-1 the night before the race and he was 75-1 to be in the first five or six. We are not a gambling yard, but we won a few quid that day. We said to the owners if he is not in the first five or six something has gone badly wrong. He had shown enough in his work.”
Defeat followed when he pulled too hard in the Acomb Stakes at York’s Ebor meeting but, dropped back to six furlongs, Shaquille won again at York and Wolverhampton as a two-year-old.
A winter’s worth of work went up in smoke when Shaquille failed to go into the stalls when fancied for the Three-Year- Old Championships Conditions Stakes on All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle in April, but the racing world sat up and took notice when he ran away from a competitive field of handicappers at Newmarket half an hour after the 2,000 Guineas on May 6.
Brown says: “A lot of horses show speed and then decelerate. He keeps going. He is relentless. That is his main weapon – his ability to run an even six furlongs and not decelerate.
“He surprised James Doyle when he managed to keep going at Newmarket. He said he did plenty wrong. He thought he’d get to the furlong marker and stop because he was so keen early – but he said he couldn’t pull him up!”
It has been the same in most of Shaquille’s other races, winning despite being his own worst enemy.
The nearest Shaquille has got to a perfect race was when he won the Listed Carnarvon Stakes at Newbury in May. He overcame a seemingly disastrous start when giving away half a dozen lengths at Royal Ascot, rearing as the stalls opened, and he also fluffed the start in the July Cup before tanking his way to the front and winning impressively. Rectifying theses glitches with a horse who is largely good as gold at home is tricky, but Brown has been working on a plan with Craig Witheford, who specialises in building racehorses’ confidence around the starting stalls procedure.
Brown continues: “We are going to have Craig come up to look at one or two things to see if we can get him to jump out the stalls more conventionally. There is only so much you can do, but Craig has one or two things in his mind. It’s your job to explore the options.”
After Haydock, Shaquille has an entry in the Champions Day Sprint at Ascot, although Brown is not sure he would run if the race was run on heavy going. Longer-term plans for the colt depend on Hughes.
Brown adds: “There have been plenty of offers for him, but Martin has consistently said he will sort his future out at the end of the season from a stallion perspective, or whether he stays in training at four. So we know as much as anyone else.”
The hope at Star Cottage is that Shaquille, who looks to have the potential to take his performances to yet another level, will still be around in 2024 to keep those low-key celebrations going.
‘We must adapt and try new things’
The big change for racing next year will be the introduction of around 160 premier fixtures.
For a two-year trial period, two premier fixtures will be staged between 2pm and 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, aimed at better horses with enhanced prize-money on offer.
Some meetings will have to be run earlier and some later to de-clutter the two-hour window. The aim is to make the best of the action more identifiable, not only to the sport’s committed customers but also in the hope of selling the sport to potentially new fans.
Questions remain, principally around where the money will come from to boost the purses, but Steve Brown reckons the experiment is worth a try and should be backed.
He says: “I am happy to watch and see how it works. I think we constantly need to adapt. If we can find something which is beneficial to racing, we need to look at it.
“That is the way the world is now. You have to be open-minded and try new things.
“You look at football now and there is hardly a day when there is not a game on the TV of some quality, so you have to be flexible in your thought process. Why not try it?
“If it doesn’t work you can always go back to the way it was.”