After going 1-for-10 on opening night at Meydan on Oct. 24, his Red Stables roared back on Nov. 7, firing with everything from a 2-year-old first-time starter to an established 7-year-old handicapper, while boasting the breadth of its clientele with five victorious owners. The card was sponsored by Meydan pillar partner Gulf News and Watson surely gave them a proper headline.
"We looked at it on paper this morning and we had a couple horses we knew were going to run really well," Watson said. "It's just an unbelievable feeling. We have such a great team at home and a lot of these horses have been training well. The races just suited us and the horses have been training well. It's a sweet feeling and it's more for the yard and (jockey) Pat (Dobbs) did an amazing job, too."
Dobbs was aboard five of the winners, while Dane O'Neill piloted one.
Nerves were up in the opener for Team Watson as highly touted debut 2-year-old Honor Code filly Rio Angie (pictured below) was a slight favourite over another with lofty hopes, Salem bin Ghadayer-trained Down on Da Bayou. Over 1400m, the Baby & Child Trophy maiden ended quickly for the latter, as Down on Da Bayou blew the start by double digit lengths. Meanwhile, Hamid Radan-owned Rio Angie carved out controlled fractions before closing her final 400m in a shade under 24 seconds to win by 4¾ lengths over Majhoola. Down on Da Bayou finished fourth after rushing to re-join the field and ultimately paying the price for her exertion. Dobbs was aboard the $320,000 Fasig-Tipton graduate and half-sister to eight winners, including Cicada Stakes (G3) winner Quantum Miss.
"We are obviously delighted she has won because we have been very pleased with her work at home, but they have to come and produce it on the track, which she has done stylishly," Watson said. "The experience will have done her good. Hopefully she is a nice filly to look forward to moving ahead."
Watson and Dobbs were soon celebrating a double after the following gulfnews.com handicap over 1600m with Trenchard, who closed well, despite going nearly five-wide turning for home. An Elusive Quality-sired half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Zulu and five-time stakes winner Third Chance, Trenchard won by 5½ lengths at the wire for Mohd Khalifa Al Basti.
"He always trained really well last season and we hoped he was well-handicapped," Watson said. "Unfortunately, he found one too good on his first two starts for us before disappointing a bit, but he had a minor breathing issue, which we sorted, and summered really well. We were pretty hopeful tonight."
The Gulf News Friday maiden over 1600m also went to the Watson and Dobbs, but in totally different circumstances with heavily favoured Mulfit having to work hard to lead near the wire. In the process, he denied Shanaghai City, who flew from the stalls under Bernardo Pinheiro and appeared a winner in upper stretch. As his mount started to feel the pinch from his early speed, Dobbs rousted Al Ghandi Racing-owned Mulfit, who made relentless progress to lead in the final 50m.
Dobbs said: "Credit to the horse because he has really toughed it out over a trip short enough for him, but they went very fast which has helped because he will stay 2000m, if not farther."
Group 3 winner Waady surprisingly returned to form in the REACH by Gulf News 1200m handicap as the less-fancied of the two Watson charges. Lytham St Annes, the other, failed to show his normal early foot, but ran on late to be fourth. Meanwhile, Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Waady, sporting the Shadwell blue and white, gamely held off seasoned ex-American sprinter Pop the Hood in fine style under owner-contracted rider Dane O'Neill.
"It is great to see Waady win like that because he always works like a monster at home, but is a bit tricky in his races," Watson said. "I am delighted for Waady and of course Sheikh Hamdan, who sends us so many nice horses."
O'Neill added: "The horse had been working well and had a good summer. Now he has put his head back in front, he can hopefully progress from this and get back to somewhere near the level he was."
Watson was responsible for half of the eight runners in the Gulf News handicap over 2000m, the evening's feature, but looked likely to have to settle for minor honours when Royston Ffrench and Walk in the Sun shot clear at halfway and entered the lane full of run. Meanwhile, Dobbs, again riding for Al Basti, was happy to bide his time in last by 25 lengths before asking 7-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding Tried and True to live up to his name. He did so in deliberate style, denying a walk in the park for Walk in the Sun.
Watson said: "Fair play to Pat, as he has let this horse find his stride and not panicked when a long way out of his ground and timed the challenge perfectly. The horses have been working nicely all along and running well enough, but everything so far this evening has gone to plan."
The meeting concluded the InsideOut handicap over 1400m and the return of The Cool Silk Partnership's promising 3-year-old Midnight Sands. Breaking well from the three-hole, the son of Speightstown vied for the lead with Gervais before putting that foe away emphatically. Mazeed rallied well to take second from Gervais. Dobbs was once again up, landing a five-timer on the evening.
The sextet of successes ups Watson's seasonal total to eight and puts him squarely in the lead for an eighth UAE championship. He is three ahead of Satish Seemar and five superior to defending champion Ernst Oertel. Dobbs also jumps into the lead in his division with six victories over the five won thus far by Connor Beasley.
Watson is a native of Centerville, Ohio, USA, and began his career at Chicago's Arlington Park cleaning stalls and grooming horses. A 26-year resident of Dubai, he was a long-time assistant to Kiaran McLaughlin before said conditioner relocated back to the USA, wherein Watson took the reins of downtown Dubai's Red Stables in 2004. In just his third season as head trainer, he won the first of seven championships. His major feats include finishing 1-2-3 in the 2016 Godolphin Mile (G2)—led by One Man Band—on Dubai World Cup night and then winning the same race one year later with Second Summer. He currently has 585 wins and trains a yard topped by multiple Group stakes winners Muntazah and Drafted.
The next Racing at Meydan card is scheduled for Thursday, November 21, with a first post of 6:30 p.m.