Jebel Ali got the 2021-22 racing season off to a flyer
Jebel Ali got the 2021-22 racing season off to a flyer Image Credit: Courtesy Abdullah Khalifa / Al Adiyat

Watson wastes no time 

Seven-time champion trainer Doug Watson made a flying start to the 2021-22 UAe flat racing season and took home a stack of silverware following a dominant display of his runners over the weekend.
All the hard work his team put in during the off-season paid off handsomely. The Red Stables are once again setting the standard for others to follow.
Despite the COVID-19 disruption to last season, Watson and his team showed plenty of resilience to secure the trainer’s title in what was a very testing season for all handlers. Despite a challenging seven-month break Watson was straight back into his stride — winning four of the seven races on the opening day’s card at Jebel Ali. If that was not enough, the Watson bandwagon then picked up the lone thoroughbred race as the action switched to Sharjah on Saturday. With over 100 horses under his wing, the American handler, who has spent close to three decades in the UAE, has a lot of ammunition at his disposal. But it takes an ambitious team of assistants, foremen, and work riders to put in the work and ensure that the horses are fit and ready to race.

Pat Dobbs

Jockey power

Watson also has a strong team of jockeys at his disposal led by long-time associate Pat Dobbs and complimented by the talented Sam Hitchott and George Buckell, all of whom won over the weekend. The handler capped a profitable afternoon which saw the feature race of the day, a 1,200m sprint, won in thrilling fashion by Ababil and Hitchcott. Victory did not come easy with Satish Seemar’s champion jockey Tadhg O’Shea and his charge Expressionist throwing everything at Hitchcott and Ababil in a finish. Ababil prevailed by the narrowest of margins but the writing is on the wall — prepare for a season-long and competitive rivalry between two of the UAE’s most experienced handlers — Watson and Zabeel Stables’ Seemar.

Seemar eyes battle

“We have a nice bunch of horses at our disposal,” Seemar said. “A mix of experience and new talent which we are looking forward to campaigning. Obviously we have to learn something about most of the horses before we begin to find targets for them as the season goes along. But we have a lot to look forward to and should have a busy and hopefully good year. The main target will be the Dubai World Cup Carnival, those are the races most owners want to see their horses run in, but like always, we will aim to be competitive at all the UAE racecourses to give our connections their money’s worth.”
There were no crowds present at either Jebel Ali or Sharjah but all that should change in the coming weeks with the authorities set to give the go-ahead for fans to return under the new protocols, which will be announced in due course.

Ernst Oertel

Arabians to the fore at Sharjah

Sharjah’s first race meet of the season featured a strong Pure-bred Arabian card which was well contested. Specialist Arabian handler Ernst Oertel and his team made the long journey from Abu Dhabi and won two of the afternoon’s six races. But it was Ibrahim Aseel from the Emirates Stud Stable who stole the honours when he won the day’s feature the Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Cup with Ashton Tourettes. It was a second career success for the son of top sire No Risk Al Maury who looks like a very nice horse for the future.
Aseel will be looking to campaign him carefully in the hope he can improve his rating as the season progresses.
The races were well-contested, underlining the strength and quality of the UAE’s Arab horse population which is growing by the day. It has long been the mission of the UAE’s Sheikhs, who patronise horse racing, to see the Arabians grow in stature and this vision is coming to fruition not just in the country but around the world.