Author: Duane Fonseca

DECEMBER AND JANUARY are particularly cold months in the UAE, but Doug Watson might have really felt the chill at Meydan after being frozen out of its winners’ enclosure for over a month. It’s unusual for Watson to be left out in the cold at Meydan, but ever since Mubakker landed the feature as part of a double on the 9 December card, the American was forced to watch from the sidelines as virtually every other trainer helped himself on the programme at Dubai’s landmark racing venue.

But as the international window opened with the inaugural night of the Dubai World Cup Carnival last Friday, the ice started to thaw. Ending a strange period for Watson was Golden Goal, who sensationally scored in the Group 2 Al Maktoum Challenge R1.

And having found the spark that reignited his title defence, the Red Stables supremo made a trip to the podium the following day at Jebel Ali after Mayaadeen nicked the 1400m handicap from the mouth of Sadeedd. Golden Goal’s success is the one likely to go the distance for Watson as it came at the cost of Secret Ambition, who thumped him by six lengths in last year’s Group 2 Godolphin Mile.

Sam Hitchcott delivered a peach of a ride aboard the 8yo Dark Angel gelding, who hugged the rail after leaping out of stall one, keeping Secret Ambition on edge all along and running on in the straight for a deserving victory by a length and a half.

It was a third success for Watson in the race and he was impressed but will now give Golden Goal the seven week break that should get him fresh for the Group 3 Burj Nahaar, Super Saturday’s course and distance equivalent of the Godolphin Mile.

“We are very, very happy for Golden Goal and his owner Dale Brennan after he ran his heart out on Friday,” Watson told Al Adiyat after his trophy presentation at Jebel Ali on Saturday. “It looks like we’ll wait for Super Saturday to next run Golden Goal.

He ran a hard race and the next mile race (the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes) is in three weeks, which will be a bit tough on him after winning the Al Maktoum Challenge, so we’ll go for the Burj Nahaar and then the Godolphin Mile.”

Watson was all praise for second choice rider Hitchcott, who partnered Golden Goal in the Godolphin Mile. “It was a good ride from Sam too,” Watson added. “They drew one and he kept Secret Ambition under pressure a little bit. Secret Ambition will come on for that run but it was nice to get the win and we’ll go to the Godolphin Mile again and give the owner every chance of winning that.”

Watson saddled two others in the Al Maktoum Challenge R1 and speaking of Thegreatcollection and Midnight Sands, who finished fourth and tenth respectively, he added: “We were a bit disappointed with Midnights Sands. He has some kind of breathing issue that’s getting him to stop.

“Thegreatcollection did well and is one we’re really looking forward to running in the second leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge. That will really help him, the extra distance and, hopefully, staying out of trouble.” The Al Maktoum Challenge R2 has been s in scheduled for 4 February, a busy night for Watson and one with the potential of being a big one as well.

Joining Thegreatcollection in the 1900m Group Two contest could be Everfast, formerly trained by Dale Romans in America, who was second in the 2019 running of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. The Take Charge Indy gelding hit the ground running on his UAE debut when comfortably seeing out a 1600m rated conditions affair on 2 December.

Prince Eiji is scheduled to contest the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes on that same card. The 6yo Dubawi gelding succumbed by a short head to Bhupat Seemar’s Kafoo on his first UAE run in a conditions event, but is a horse the trainer likes. “Everfast is being pointed towards the second leg.

He was second in the 2019 Preakness Stakes over the same trip and he’s come on really well since his win and his owner (Frankie O’Connor) wants to go there so we’ve been meaning to save him for 4 February,” Watson said. “Prince Eiji goes to the Firebreak Stakes.

I think Kafoo franked that form very nicely. We were thrilled with his first run. Thrilled and disappointed, but seeing Kafoo come back and run such a great race helped. “Prince Eiji just was a bit leg weary with it being his first start on dirt, but he’s come out of it well and we’re looking forward to the fourth of February.”

But before that, the second night of the carnival on Friday will witness Watson dispatching some of his more seasoned names. Canvassed and Al Tariq both vie for the Group 3 Dubawi Stakes, while 2019 Group 2 UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait and Lost Eden contest the rated conditions run over 2000m.

Plus Que Parfait has gone winless since clinching the UAE Derby and was fifth on his UAE debut in the Listed Entisar a little over a month ago, while Lost Eden took second behind 2020 Group 3 UAE Oaks winner Down On Da Bayou at Jebel Ali on his Emirates bow.

Watson remains hopeful of the quartet and said: “Canvassed and Al Tariq both run in the Dubawi Stakes Canvassed is doing super: real good, so we’re looking forward to having him back out. There’s a few more, but those are the main ones at the moment.”

With him having steered back to winning ways there’s definitely a lot to look forward to over the next few months. Missing the mark is definitely and definitively instructive and seven time UAE Champion Trainer Watson picked up plenty of positives too.

“Three Meydan meetings without a win is slightly unusual,” said Watson, who was dethroned at the top of the Trainers’ Championship and with 21 wins so far trails leader Seemar by two. “Maybe we didn’t have the right horses, maybe we weren’t in the greatest of form, but the season’s going swingy. Bhupat has had a great run and we’re just trying to get back and try and get them into top form and to finish out the season.

“Hopefully, we keep going. We have some nice horses at the stable. We’ve done well here and hopefully we keep winning more and then a few Dubai World Cup Carnival races to add to that will be great.”