Watson: 'Ascot's Been Pretty Big in the Storyline of my Career'

Archie Watson congratulates Hollie Doyle after Bradsell's Coventry win | Racingfotos.com

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Bradsell (GB) (Tasleet {GB}) was the juvenile star of the opening day of Royal Ascot last year and the G2 Coventry S. winner has been supplemented to return next week in the G1 King's Stand S. for Archie Watson.

“I guess Ascot's been pretty big in the storyline of my career,” admits the Lambourn trainer, who also won't be short of two-year-old runners at the royal meeting in an attempt add to a record which includes the Windsor Castle S.

“Soldier's Call (GB) was obviously our first big winner. I know it was a Listed win, but it was a Royal Ascot winner. And the fact he then went on and won a Flying Childers and was very good in those Group 1 sprints, being only narrowly beaten in the Abbaye and then the following year he found Battaash (Ire) a few times, but he was a very good horse and he put us on the map for sure.

“Ascot has really been very important in the few years I've been training because we've had a Coventry winner, a British Champions Sprint winner and then obviously the whole Dragon Symbol debacle as well, winning a Commonwealth Cup and then not winning a Commonwealth Cup.”

Glen Shiel (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) was the first Group 1 winner for Watson and for his stable jockey Hollie Doyle on Champions Day in 2020, two years after Soldier's Call had brought his trainer to wider prominence at Royal Ascot. Though Watson is still only in his seventh full season with a licence, the cyclical nature of the business means that his stable now contains a number of youngsters by the Ballyhane Stud stallion, who currently leads the European first-season sires' table with 12 winners.

“Soldier's was such a dude of a horse to train,” he recalls. “It was in my second season training that we got sent that first batch of Clipper Logistics horses, and Soldier's was one of them. That was massive for us. 

“He had such a lovely character and I'm just glad that he is really taking off as a stallion. We've got eight by him and we've won with three of the four that we've run. He's going great guns and it's really great to see, for Steve Parkin and Joe Foley and everybody involved in the horse.”

Watson has nine juvenile winners on the board already for the year, with a selection of those being primed for next week. These include Army Ethos (GB) (Shalaa {Ire}), who will aim to give the stable a second Coventry success in the same colours as Bradsell, for Victorious Racing and Fawzi Nass. 

“He's a very talented horse,” says Watson. “I do really think that he can be a proper stakes horse in six-furlong sprints this year. 

“We're going to run two in the Queen Mary, a Zoustar (Aus) filly called Out Of The Stars (GB) for Qatar Racing. She's out of a mare called Out Of The Flames (GB), who was third in the Queen Mary. She's a homebred. She won at Kempton and she's very talented. 

“She goes to the Queen Mary along with the Mehmas (Ire) filly called Ba'Hoa (GB), who won at Newcastle for the Cool Silk Partnership.”

For the Windsor Castle, Watson will be saddling Action Point (Ire), who was the first winner for another freshman sire, Blue Point (Ire).

“He's a very nice horse,” says the trainer. “He won on debut and then was second in the Royal Ascot two-year-old trial. He's come on plenty since then, physically.

“We had a Soldier's Call winner called Reveiller (Ire) at Salisbury a couple of weekends go. He won impressively, he came from the breeze-ups, and he's going to go to the Norfolk, all being well.”

Watson also fields Lightning Leo (GB) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) in the Chesham S. for Lone Star Investments. “He won the first seven-furlong race of the year at Yarmouth, which was a very strong field,” he says.

“I'm not going in there with one like Bradsell who'd won his maiden by 10 lengths last year. But I think we're going with some nice horses. It does look on paper that a few of the races are very strong this year, but it probably does every year, doesn't it?”

He continues, “Bradsell is probably our main hope. I took him out of the Commonwealth. He's run two very solid races, third in both his runs this year, but he's really sharpened up and has looked like a five-furlong horse. It's very sporting of Sheikh Nasser to roll the dice and supplement him for the King's Stand, and then he will hopefully have a campaign over five furlongs for the rest of the season.”

 

While Watson has been successful with juveniles runners from the start, and in 2019 alone trained 76 two-year-old winners, he says that it is not something he specifically set out to do. 

“I don't like to be defined by it, and we've had plenty of jumps winners and good staying winners,” he says. “I wouldn't want to be emphasising that it's just speedy horses, but it's obviously something that we've done well with.

“This year we've had a good start with the two-year-olds because they're a quality group of horses, and I think that's the main thing. We had a quieter couple of years but we always manage to find a good one. Bradsell last year, and obviously Eddie's Boy (GB), and Nazanin (GB) won a Group 3 the one year, Mighty Gurkha won a Group 3 the year before that.”

Watson adds, “But I think this year the quality is definitely up. We've been very fortunate to have been sent a nice bunch of horses and Tom Biggs has done his job well buying a nice group of horses for me. He works very, very hard. Whilst I'm obviously there and making decisions with him, it does take 99% of the work out of my hands in terms of the sales.”

While he can lean on Biggs, of the Blandford Bloodstock team, Watson takes sole responsibility for the placing his horses. 

” I was assistant to William Haggas and he always did the placing and entering himself. And that's something that I've always been adamant that I should do, and I do enjoy it. But obviously when you've got large numbers of horses and large numbers of race meetings, it takes up a lot of time figuring out where to run them all.”

Archie Watson with his wife Brodie Hampson, Hollie Doyle and Glen Shiel

 

Watson takes pride in the upward trajectory of the career of Hollie Doyle, whom he says has been “massive for the yard”.

He continues, “She'd ridden out her claim and wasn't really getting the rides at Richard Hannon's because they've got nice apprentices coming through every year, so I said, 'Come and ride out for us.' 

“We just always got on very well, and when Eddie [Greatrex] got injured, Hollie took over, riding a lot more, and it's just gone from strength to strength. She's a great rider. She understands exactly how I like the horses ridden and I think the one thing about her is that she's very consistent and she very rarely makes mistakes. 

“For me, she's a top-five jockey and it's just a massive bonus for a yard like ours, that's only been training seven years, to have a top-tier jockey in the country riding for us day in, day out. We had our 200th winner together the other day.”

Doyle is not the only talented female jockey in the Watson yard. Straight after last year's Royal Ascot the trainer married amateur rider Brodie Hampson, who rides under both codes but has a particular affinity with National Hunt racing. 

“I've always had an interest in it but Brodie loves it,” says Watson, whose success over jumps includes the G2 Leamington Novices' Hurdle winner Stag Horn (GB) (Golden Horn {GB}). 

“Brodie trains the jumps portion of the string and she does a great job. It's something we enjoy and it's great. Originally it was just a few handicappers that Brodie rode herself, but then Simon Turner said, 'Let's buy a couple of point-to-pointers', and we've been very lucky so far. I think we'll have a team of eight or 10 jumpers next year.”

In the meantime, however, the tweeds have been cast aside for top hats and tails next week at Ascot.

“We've always been fortunate enough to have a good team to take,” Watson says. “I try not to send horses that are just there as social runners. I'd say we'll have 15 or so runners this year and I hope that they've all got a squeak in some way, for sure.”

 

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