Author: Duane Fonseca
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That mantra adopted by multiple UAE Champion Trainer Doug Watson has served him well during his 25 years in the Emirates. With a local record six titles under his belt since taking over as Red Stables’ boss in 2004, there is no doubt about his status as the undisputed king of the ring among UAE-based trainers. The secret behind his success? “We just have a great team of people at Red Stables who do a great job and help me a lot. Pat Dobbs and Sam Hitchcott are our jockeys, so it’s the same staff, a good one and the team that started here still is.
The last few years have been working well for us so as they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’,” said Watson, from behind his desk with the afternoon sun bouncing off the concrete outside of his office and reflecting onto his face. If you’re looking for omens, there’s one right there as if the universe were marking him out to be the chosen one yet again. Of course it’s too early to talk about championships just yet, and time will reveal whether or not when the season draws to a close Watson leaves with a seventh title in the bag. But if it is early vibes that you seek then this weekend’s season opening, seven- race card at Jebel Ali might just turn out to be a harbinger of things to come.
“We are ready to go. It’s been good so far looking ahead,” he continued. “We have a lot of new horses and are well over 100 now. The new horses help. A few of them are unknown but we purchased a few good ones out of the April and September sales so we have about 10-11 good 2yos like Razeena, Lady Wedad, Every Single Day, who are looking good as they’ve trained here at Red Stables. “Then there’s the older lot like Muntazah, Street Of Dreams, Drafted, Etijaah, Big Brown Bear and Kimbear who are also returning. Galvanize and Trenchard are back too so we are very excited about the start of the season.”
He has every reason to be excited as he has always been a regular in the winner’s enclosure. Watson won his sixth trainers’ title last season relatively comfortably when compared to the year before where he was forced into a two way battle all the way to the end by one time boss Satish Seemar before he sealed the deal with 40 winners, two more than the tally of the Zabeel Stables’ chief. It was the first time he had won the honour thrice in a row. There had been consecutive victories before but now it’s as if things have been laid down in stone. In Watson’s case, it’s more of a case of success breeding success. “We’ve had six championships and we are fortunate to have over 100 horses again this year, when horse numbers are down for a few other trainers,” Watson said, hinting nothing can be taken for granted in what is a truly competitive campaign.
“Satish has a few good ones and Musabbeh Al Mheiri is back training so he’ll start to rebuild. I think there is a nice camaraderie among trainers and we have a nice programme here that keeps us in the mix. “Every time it’s been on a dirt surface, take away the Tapeta years, we’ve been either first or second in the championship, so we are hopeful to have another good season; it’s always nice to have new horses because in the years that you get new horses, there’s one that can pop out and win three in a row so that’s three wins and we have a bunch of those that might be able to do something like that.”
Watson also diplomatically warned off rivals saying: “We’re better off this year as we have more horses. Last year, they were mostly rated 70 and above, but this year we have more in the 60-70 range, so that gives us a bit more to look at.” Watson took over as Red Stables’ boss in 2004, following the departure of Kieran McLaughlin, who he had served as assistant for nearly a decade since arriving in the UAE in 1993 having briefly worked for Seemar. Racehorse training was a massive shift from what Watson set out to do academically as he equipped himself with a degree in finance. He could have galloped up the corporate rung perhaps with his qualifications.
However, disillusioned with having worked in the field, he embarked into the known yet unknown world of horse racing. Watson was bit by the equine bug while spending time at the farm of a friend in his home state of Ohio. “I later went to college and earned a degree in finance and had a job for six months, but I hated it so I decided to give training a shot,” Watson said. His parents weren’t too happy with the idea, but Watson found himself a job as a hot walker at the Arlington International Racecourse in Chicago, and started to work his way up from there. His life changed in 1993, when an assistant of Seemar asked if he would like to work in Dubai. “I thought I’d give it a shot for a year and so many years later I’m still here,” he said.
Today, he calls the most unlikeliest of cabin spaces his office as he sits behind his desk pondering over reports and papers that point towards his 16th full season as a trainer. He is nearly 7,000 miles away from home, but very much at home; after all as the good old adage goes: ‘Home is where the heart is’. “It’s great to be here you know. New horses always keep me going. Winning races is always exciting for us trainers and I love competition, but overall this job is just very gratifying. “There’s a lot of things to like about the job,” said Watson, whose biggest Thoroughbred win so far in the UAE was with Second Summer in the 2017 running of the $1 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile.
“People ask me if I would like to go back to the States and do this, but I say this is the best job to ever have in horse racing. I mean the horses we are given by the owners. “Being a trainer, I don’t think you can be in a better place.” Well, first place is always top place.