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Doug Watson on making a first class return

Doug Watson on making a first class return

Eight times UAE Champion Doug Watson may be more familiar as a trainer of Thoroughbreds, however he has always had a great admiration for the Arabian breed. Some of the best horses he’s handled were Arabians during his early career in Dubai, following his arrival from America. Now, after a break of several years, he’s back at the top table with the American bred and owned multiple Gr1 PA winner First Classs (Dahess).

“When First Classs arrived, I walked into the stall and thought now there’s the type of Arabian we want to see again,” commented Watson before the race. “He’s a good size and he’s got a great attitude. Going into the Jewel Crown we don’t have a great gauge on him, he’d worked for us a week ago, and he worked very well, Pat [Dobbs] thought he was a little lazy and then I showed him the clock and said he’s not lazy! 

“I wasn’t sure about his fitness, as we’d only had him a couple of weeks. Though I think with Arabians, once you get them fit, you just try to keep them sweet, they’ve got better airways than thoroughbreds, they don’t need as much work, we see on Sunday how he goes, I’m excited just to lead him over there.”

Before First Classs arrived, Watson was down to just one Arabian in his string of 80 at Red Stables in the shadow of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.

“Dolwa, she’s by Dormane (Managante) out of Chalwa du Breuil (Mahabb). She’s tiny, but she won her trial easily, she broke well and galloped out strongly. She does everything right, but its’ tough over here, the racing is so competitive.”

First Classs has since been joined by Winds of Fortune (Al Mamun Monlau), who carries the same colours, that of their breeders Deb Mihaloff and Alan Kirshner of Cre Run Farm. Just prior to Abu Dhabi’s Jewel Crown, First Classs’s lease to Noora Racing and the Al Kaabi family had expired and Mihaloff explained, “We had a wonderful three years sharing First Classs’s success with the Al Kaabi’s and of course Alban and Jean de Mieulle. With each becoming private trainers, it was time for First Classs to move on again and having had such great experiences in the UAE, we are thrilled to be working with Doug and his team, and that Maeve Chupin has come with Classs as his groom to continue that partnership at home.

“Doug has had plenty of experience training top class Arabians for H.H. Sheikh Hamdan and with his passing and dispersal of his stock, we know that First Classs will be the best Arabian in his stable and treated as such. We are working hard to promote Cre Run’s breeding programme on an international level and while there is always a degree of stress in having your horse trained abroad, we feel that Doug’s experience with Sheikh Hamdan and his other American owners has given us one less thing to worry about.”

It all started for Watson when he was introduced to racing by school friend Austin Smith, whose father George, was a leading producer of thoroughbred racehorses in Ohio at that time.

“Basically, we were hanging out at the farm” he explained. “I never really worked with the horses, but I started going racing with him and his father. I went to the backside a few times with them and loved it.”

So much so, that despite gaining a degree in Finance, he was soon working for trainers in Chicago, Florida and then Kentucky. Meeting Susan Sanderson, who was then assistant to Satish Seemar whilst he was in Keenland, led him to consider Dubai. Deciding to “give it a go for a year” he went out in September 1993 and hasn’t looked back.

From Seemar at Zabeel Stables, Watson moved to Kiaran McLaughlin, as he explains “Satish was great for me and we had good times there, but the chance to work for McLaughlin, who’d been assistant to D Wayne Lukas, and you know, two Americans together. We got on really well, so it all worked out.”

Starting off as barn foreman he soon progressed to assistant trainer, eventually taking over the license when McLaughlin left. One of Red Stables main supporters was Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum and during those early years he was involved with many of his best Arabians including Bopp Moon (Dormane), Nivour de Cardonne (Manganate), Nirwan (Dormane), Jehol de Cardonne (Manganate), Falina des Fabries (Dormane) and Al Sakbe (Kesberoy). However of all those horses, there was one who stood out, Al Saoudi (Nuit St Georges).

“He was so quiet, he’d gallop like a thoroughbred. We were pretty much under the gun with him, getting him real late, in January.  I guess he’d had setbacks at home and finally Sheikh Hamdan had said ‘send him out!’ So we got him and had to run him about 15 days before the World Cup in a handicap over seven furlongs carrying top weight. He won and then we had to run back in the Kahayla and I guess he was a little flat. Madjani (Tidjani) beat us, we were gutted.  He then won the Emirates Championship at the end of that season and the first two legs of the Maktoum Challenge the next season, then he picked up an injury that ended his career.”

“Then it went a little quiet” Watson continues, “but of course Paddys Day (Burning Sand) came in between, that was a bit of an adventure! We won a Al Maktoum Challenge with him and a Mazrat Al Ruwayah. “

“We got a Shadwell bred filly last year, Al Mahbooba (Madjani), who won Al Ain Marathon Triple Crown for us. She was out of an Al Saoudi mare too! It’s not that we we’re not interested in Arabians, it’s just that people don’t send them to us. We’d love to have ten or twelve every season, we’ve done very well with them over the years.”

Watson still receives horses from Sheikha Hissa, not Arabians of course, but despite numbers being down, he’s upbeat about the future given the prize money increases. He knows that he needs new owners and is already looking to America to bring him back to the 100 figure that he feels works best for him and his team. The experience with Al Mahbooba, who had raced successfully in the UK prior to her arrival reinforces that it continues to be a viable option to bring European horses to the UAE to race in the winter.

“They’ve upped the prize money for the black type races. The nice thing about First Classs is he goes on both surfaces equally well, so that opens a lot of doors and there’s Saudi too of course.”

Looking ahead Watson updates on his Arabians saying “First Classs is doing great after his fifth in the Jewel Crown.  We’ll run in the second leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge on January 26th and we’ve nominated him for both races in Saudi Arabia, but won’t make any further plans until after Meydan.

“Winds of Fortune will race on January 25th back at Abu Dhabi in a similar race to that in which he was second in December. He’s doing really well at home and seems a nice prospect.”

Concluding he says“We’d love to have more Arabians here. We just want to race and win races.”

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