Author: Duane Fonseca

ALL GUNS ABLAZE. That’s perhaps how Doug Watson will approach the 2021/22 Emirates Racing Season as he seeks to secure the UAE Trainers’ Championship for the eighth time even as he looks to meet the expectations of a posse of new owners and those that have always put their faith in him.

The Red Stables’ supremo appears to have finely tuned his string over the last few months and was seemingly happy with the way things panned out after initial hiccups concerning his stable personnel. With virtually every industry reeling from implications caused by the Covid pandemic, particularly travel restrictions that had either put paid to or made it difficult for people to move around, Watson did have a few issues to start with.

However, with all the folds ironed out the American is very much looking forward to the 2021/22 campaign, which starts at Jebel Ali Racecourse this Friday. “Our preparations have been good,” Watson told Al Adiyat. “We were a little short staffed at the beginning with a bunch of grooms stuck in India and Pakistan, but Dubai Racing Club did a great job trying to get us new grooms and it’s been a great help because it’s been difficult for everybody.

“Things have come around. We’ve had a lot of new horses come in and a lot of fresh stock to see how they do over here and a lot of the older favourites that have been here for a while. So we have a lot of horses.” By a lot, Watson is talking of a three digit figure. “Looks like we will have about 120 horses and out of that we will have probably 50-60 new ones,” he revealed, counting the few that were yet to touch down in Dubai.

These are being sent in by new owners as well as those who have tapped into Watson’s expertise over the years. Among the new owners who have sent him horses are Rockingham Ranch, who won the 2019 Group 1 Golden Shaheen with X Y Jet after finishing the runner-up twice with the same horse in the two previous editions of the dirt sprint.

Dave Bernsen, owner of Jalen Journey, tenth in the 2021 running of the race, was also keen on testing the Emirates waters and jumped aboard. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Mishal Al Saud and UAE-based Nasir Askar are among the other new names to employ Watson. “We have six from America which are owned by Rockingham Ranch, who owned XY Jet and David Bernsen had Jalen Journey in the Golden Shaheen last year and they’re sending maybe carnival types,” said Watson.

“We have a nice 2yo for Nasir Askar, Seven Drums. He’ll be going a little later in the season, but he’s looking like he’ll be a nice horse. That’s our first one for Nasir. “We also have a new Saudi owner in Prince Sultan and he’s sent four from America and we’re looking forward to those. One runs on the first night.

They’re older Americanbred horses that were racing in America. So, basically, about ten that were racing in America which is nice. “Prize money has gone up a bit in the Dubai World Cup Carnival now and they’re willing to take a chance on that. The Americans are keen on it especially Rockingham and Dave Bernsen to see how they might go.

“They’ve picked certain horses they thought might be suited to running here, but I think we’ve had some positive results over the past few years and people come to you. There’s been new owners coming to us over the years. so, hopefully, we can do well for them.” Watson’s barracks have been further armed by owners already on his roster Al Tariq with the owner of Listed Jebel Ali Sprint and subsequent Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint winner Al Tariq, Abdulmohsen Al Abdulkareem sending more to run in his own colours and as part of a syndicate.

“Al Tariq’s owners have Al Murqab, who finished second behind Faithful Soldier up the hill last season and also Uncle Hamed, who won a conditions event on his last start. Uncle Hamed was given a very high rating which was a little tough, but their owners have a few more. They have Leopardo who was with Mark Johnston here last year and a 2yo called American Phillip, who is owned in a syndicate.

“So those guys they’re supporting us and also Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum. We had three horses of his and Canvassed did very well last year, winning a carnival handicap and then landing the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal on Super Saturday before finishing third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

“He has sent us some 2yos and they look like they’re doing very well. They will trial this week and he’s also sent some really nice ones down from England to see how they develop for the season. I think we have about ten for him now.” While Minwah, a 2yo Cupid filly, and The Magical McCool, a 2yo American Freedom colt, were bought by Watson for Ahmad Bintooq and A L Butler respectively from the Midlantic 2yos in Training sale in Maryland, Sheikh Mohammed Obaid purchased Taking Names, a 2yo colt sired by the late 2017 Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate, and Nobody’s Joke from the OBS sale in Florida.

Plus Que Parfait, winner of the Group 2 UAE Derby in 2019, is also under Watson’s tutelage. Representing the Russian Racing Syndicate, he is joined by teammate Celtic Striker, a 20 length winner of the 2020 Listed Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont. “We haven’t had many for the syndicate lately, but he’s doing well and he’ll run in the Entisar.

Celtic Striker won what was a two horse race, but he won it by 20 lengths and he’s a beautiful animal.”Also on his exciting list of juveniles are Practical Mischief, Golden Arch and Tulip R, who will join their already famous Al Rashid Stables teammate Mnasek, winner of last season’s Group 3 UAE Oaks.

Watson is also looking forward to returning his big name Shadwell runners to the track and reported Khuzaam and Turjomaan among the new arrivals to race for the blue and white brigade in his care. Khuzaam is the highest rated name in Watson’s yard. The 5yo Kitten’s Joy gelding carries a rating of 116, with the latter, a 5yo gelded son of War Front, also in the DWC Carnival pecking order at 105.

“I will be eternally grateful to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who so kindly gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to train for him way back in 2003 and he and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave me a career in a job I love,” Watson said. “I owe them both so much; without them I would not be here and I obviously hope to maintain the link going forward with Sheikh Hamdan’s family.

“We would like to have some more luck for Sheikh Hamdan’s family, for it to keep going and it would be nice to keep those famous colours running. They mean so much to world racing. They’re very famous silks and lots of champions have carried them worldwide.

I’d love to win another big one for the family. “We have some nice horses of theirs and I think right now we have about 24 for Shadwell so it’s a nice group. We have some new horses and others like Ekhtiyaar and Waady, who we’ll just point towards the Dubai World Cup Carnival. Motafaawit (fifth in last year’s Al Quoz Sprint) is also part of the group and hopefully we can have good winners for them.”

Pat Dobbs and Sam Hitchcott will once again take the reins as Watson’s first and second choice riders and with his training assistant Noel Connoly’s solid backing the American is ready to roar as he seeks an unprecedented eighth title. “We love winning races and last year was a big challenge with missing nearly all of January and finally getting back towards carnival time.

We had help from some of the other stables when we couldn’t go to the races ourselves so it was satisfying. We were nervous down to the end of the season, but it finished off very well.” Looks like Watson might just about have a tad better run this time.