Shalaa confirmed himself the best two-year-old colt around when justifying prohibitive odds in the Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes in the Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket on Saturday.
The Al Shaqab-owned colt provided town trainer John Gosden with his fifth winner at this year’s Cambridgeshire meeting after making all the running under Frankie Dettori and seeing off his rivals despite getting unbalanced and appearing to lose some momentum going into the dip.
Shalaa has now won four Group races as a juvenile, two of which have come at the top level after he won the Prix Morny at Deauville in August.
The Invincible Spirit colt is a general 12-1 chance for next year’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas but his trainer remains convinced he’s an out-and-out sprinter who could follow in the footsteps of Oasis Dream and become a leading sire of sprinters.
Gosden, who has said this will be the colt’s last race of the year, said: “He’s been on the go since March and I was mindful that we weren’t coming here as fresh as I would have liked, but a very fast horse and he has done a lot of growing up this year.
“He’s the fastest two-year-old I’ve got but he’s got a great mind too.
“I’m not sure about trying to stretch out to a mile next year, I see him more as an out-and-out sprinter, very much in the mould of Oasis Dream.”
Saturday’s win led William Hill cut Shalaa to 7-2 favourite (from 5) for next year’s Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
Dettori, speaking to the Racing Post, said: “He’s got tremendous speed and he is the fastest two-year-old I’ve ridden. I haven’t met a horse fast enough to lead him.
“I didn’t feel that great coming down the Dip as he changed legs about five times and lost some momentum, but he showed that he is very brave.
“On a flat track I think he’d have won by two or three lengths. He’s won two Group 1s now and he’s a great horse to have around.”
The other Group One race on Saturday’s final day of the Cambridgeshire, the Connolly’s RED MILLS Cheveley Park Stakes, was won by the Mark Johnston-trianed Lumiere, ridden by William Buick earlier in the day.
The speedball of a filly bounced out of the stalls to lead her rivals from the outset and, having set what looked even fractions out in front, found plenty in the final furlong to repel the challengers.
Given how much speed the daughter of Zoffany shows in her races, there are obvious doubts about her ability to get the Guineas trip, for which she was given quotes of around 16-1, but her trainer holds this filly in such high regard that he is already convinced that she can win the first fillies’ classic of 2016.
Johnston said: “I haven’t been as nervous ahead of a race as I was today. I thought she was the best horse in the race and I think she is the best I’ve had in a long time.
“She was the biggest, tallest and rangiest filly in the line-up and she’s got so much speed.
“William Buick told me after the York defeat that she was a proper six furlong horse but I’ve already told the owners that she will win the Guineas.
“The Breeders’ Cup has been mentioned but not really discussed in any detail so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Meanwhile, there were jubilant scenes in the parade ring as the Musley Bank Partnership celebrated the success of Third Time Lucky who provided trainer Richard Fahey with yet another big-race Saturday success, in the Betfred Cambridgeshire (Heritage Handicap).
The Malton-based trainer sent out six winners the previous Saturday and his marvellous season continued when Adam Beschizza drove the improving three-year-old to the front in the closing stages to plunder first prize by the narrowest of margins.
Mick Scaife, co-owner of Third Time Lucky, said: “It was Richard who planned the Cambridgeshire, he keeps his plans to himself but he keeps coming up trumps so we aren’t complaining.
“We didn’t even know who the jockey was until earlier this week; Richard just said to us ‘don’t worry about the jockey, I’ve got it sorted’, and what a ride he gave it, all credit to Adam (Beschizza).
“It’s great to just be part of a race like the Cambridgeshire but to win it is just brilliant, Richard is an absolute genius.”
The talk before the race had been about Bronze Angel, who after wins in 2012 and 2014 was looking to become the first horse to win the historic race three times, but he came home in a disappointing 21st place.
* See Thursday’s Newmarket Journal for pictures from the meeting and more reaction.