THE ABANDONMENT of the 2020 Dubai World Cup card on account of Covid-19 felt like a ‘gut punch’ at the time for Doug Watson. But having relegated that heartbreak to the past during the course of a summer that felt relatively longer and hotter than in previous years, the seven time UAE Champion Trainer is relishing the excitement of the 2020/21 campaign which gets underway in cooler climes this weekend. “I was sitting at this very desk the Sunday before World Cup Saturday and word was coming in that it was cancelled so you went from a very decent high to a big low,” Watson told Al Adiyat leaning forward from the chair he occupies as head of Red Stables. It is a position Watson has maintained since 2004, when he took over from fellow American Kiaran McLaughlin, whom he served as assistant for nearly a decade after arriving in the UAE in 1993.
Watson added: “It was disappointing. I’m not gonna say we were going to win a race or anything but we had some lovely horses like Waady and Ekhtiyaar who were in good form going into it. “Midnight Sands was in excellent form along with Kimbear who won the first leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge. I think he was coming around. We had RB Texas Hold Em in the Kahayla Classic, so we had some good horses and we were looking forward to the night. “But the entire world is suffering right now and probably in the long term it’s not that important anyway. But at the time, it was a bit of a gut punch. “You wanna have the best year you can have every year. Last year we had a few nice nights and a nice season, but overall with the group of horses we had it maybe didn’t work out as well as we’d have liked it to go and maybe World Cup night would have made up for that. “It was a bit gut wrenching when the World Cup was cancelled and we were all down after that. Then Drafted and Midnight Sands went to the States to race. But we are picking back up again and I t h i n k we should have a nice season.”
With the world at a standstill for the major part of 2020 due to the pandemic, Watson and the rest of his staff weren’t able to holiday in the true essence of the word and were forced to stay put in Dubai. “We take our summers off and we don’t ride out during the summers, so we started 23 July like we did last year,” Watson explained. “Everything is pretty much the same except that we didn’t get a chance to get out of here and get a bit of a holiday. Everybody was kind of here for the summer. The riders, grooms they all took their holiday here, we all took our holidays here. “But I’m just glad we’re racing and hopefully everything will go well. It’s a tough time all over the world and we’ll just have to see how Covid-19 affects the racing. But we have a nice group of horses and some of the races that are coming up suit us pretty well.
So, we hope for the best. I think that’s what all anybody can do at the moment.” Watson has a large group to manage with ‘about a 100 already in the yard and a few more expected’ to take up vacant spots soon. And it’s not just new horses, new owners have sent him stock as well, underlining their confidence in his ability. “I think we might have about five to seven more joining the yard,” Watson said after confirming with his racing secretary. “We have a few new horses in, a few from the sale here and a few from the UK sale. HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum has sent us a really nice one and we may be getting a couple more, but we don’t know that yet. “I think we have about 11 juveniles. There’s a couple of nice fillies and colts, but with these young horses you never really know what you have. “It’s a nice group and the horses are enjoying their time. We have a lot of maidens and then some good older horses that have been around for a while and some new horses we hope will step up and kind of move us forward a bit.”
While 2020 will always be remembered for the mayhem caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has helped put life into perspective for many. Watson included. “You can sit and talk about how gutted you were that World Cup night was cancelled, but you think how lucky you are that your family and friends are alright and that everybody is doing ok at the moment,” Watson added. “At the time it was pretty gut wrenching, but in the long term it didn’t matter that much. It does put everything into perspective and it’s a really funny time. Hopefully, we’ll all just get through it and go forward.” Looking forward and Watson resumes ties with both first choice rider Pat Dobbs and Sam Hitchcott. Dobbs rides in Britain during the summer and has gone about his business at a healthy strike rate of a little over 10% having registered 26 winners from 248 rides.
Among them are his victories in the Listed Pad Eddery Stakes at Ascot with the Richard Hannontrained Chindit, who he then piloted to success in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster. Dobbs also won the Group 3 Solario Stakes aboard Hannon’s Etonian at Sandown. And Watson will be hoping the Irishman has brought that form to Dubai. The pair enjoyed a massive night on 7 November at Meydan last year when Dobbs rode five of six winners for Watson, who took the entire card. Watson added: “Pat and Sam are both back and riding for me. Pat had a nice summer winning Group races and he was riding well in Britain so it’s good him coming in and it’s great having Sam back as well.” As far as Watson’s own goals are concerned, he would just like for his entire operation to put its best foot forward. “We want to just go out there and do as well as we can for the owners who have horses with us and trust us to train them,” Watson said. “We have more owners with us this year and we’ll be happy to do the best for them.”