David Cormack on a young rider who has made a big impact this season
Interview with the exciting young jockey
The 2018 Flat season has seen the emergence of some fantastic equine talent. William Haggas’ Arc runner-up Sea Of Class surely heads the list of previously unraced horses elevated to the top of the pile during the course of the year and with star two-year-olds such as Too Darn Hot and Ten Sovereigns to look forward to next season there is no doubt that the 2018 Flat season’s equine participants certainly did their bit to keep racing’s star shining brightly.
But several previously unheralded humans have also played a part in making it a season to remember and within the ranks of apprentice jockeys a champion has emerged whose future career will be as eagerly anticipated as any of the horses we are waiting to see next year.
There are no guarantees that a glittering apprentice will be able to translate that promise and talent into a successful career as a top jockey. For every Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore or Oisin Murphy, all former champion apprentices who have gone on to great things in the game, there is another who will find the transition from apprentice to fully fledged jockey a difficult leap to make.
But, if you were a betting man, you’d surely be sorely tempted to have a flutter on 2018’s champion apprentice, Jason Watson, being one of those likely to bridge the gap.
Watson crowned his championship season by winning the hugely competitive Steward’s Cup on Hugo Palmer’s Gifted Master and the list of trainers who have been clamouring to secure his services is testament to the regard in which he is clearly held by the individuals who can make or break a jockey’s career.
As well as Palmer, Saeed Bin Suroor has been an enthusiastic supporter of Watson and he’s also ridden winners for Charlie Hills, Amanda Perrett, Hughie Morrison, Clive Cox, David Elsworth, Karl Burke and Gary Moore (among many others). Over 120 different trainers have booked him, quite an amazing statistic for a rider who came into 2018 having previously ridden only two winners.
But it is Andrew Balding, with whom Watson is based, who has been the key guiding hand behind the young jockey’s development. Balding has a lengthy and distinguished record of identifying and providing opportunities for talented young riders and William Buick, David Probert and Oisin Murphy have all won the apprentice title while serving their time at Kingsclere.
Watson, from Lewes in Sussex, is the son of a postman and boasts no family background in the sport. He started riding at six years old and decided at an early age that racing was the path he wanted to follow in life. He had an early, influential, education from former jockey Ray Goldstein, who ran the riding school that Watson went to for lessons as a child. Goldstein spotted the young rider’s natural ability and quickly flagged his talent to Watson’s parents.
Leaving school at 13 in favour of home schooling, Watson admits to not being academically inclined. “My parents employed a teacher and they were supposed to come in once a week and set you work, but I saw them about twice a year and that was the end of that.” So, as he describes it himself, he has put all of life’s eggs “in one basket”.
Time with Gary Moore and Tres Abbott (in the States) preceded Watson’s time with Balding but it is at Kingsclere that he has learned his
trade and also gained in education into the less glamorous side of racing. Part of his daily routine is to chip in with the more mundane tasks that make up daily life in the yard. Early starts and mucking out help keep his feet on the ground and provide the discipline necessary to cope with what can be a tough life once that invaluable claim has gone.
Watson is coached by former top jockey John Reid, a Derby and Arc De Triomphe winning pilot himself. The support team is completed by top agent Tony Hind, responsible for guiding Ryan Moore, Richard Hughes and Jim Crowley to their senior jockey’s titles. Hind’s contacts and credibility have undoubtedly played a big part in ensuring that Watson’s mercurial talent has not only been noted but has also been translated into rides. That Hind, who favours quality over quantity, has chosen him to join his select list of clients is surely an indication in itself of the regard in which the youngster’s talent is held.
Once an apprentice is identified as being strong value for his claim the opportunities do normally open up but it is once the claim is no longer available that many start to waver.
With a strong team behind him and a legion of admirers within the training ranks you sense that it is only Watson himself that can derail his chances of reaching the very top. That, or physical problems such as injury or difficulties maintaining his weight.
With a weight that hovers around 8st 6lbs (although he’s ridden as low as 8st 1lb in the last year), Watson benefits from not being tall but he describes himself as having a ‘broad build’. He may need to dig into the reserves of discipline being built under Balding’s tutelage to help him manage his weight in years to come if he does have any growing still to do.
Apprentice Oisin Murphy is the most recent high profile follower of the path Watson is on and with his hero Ryan Moore having also followed the same route Watson has plenty role models in the weighing room to turn to. Murphy, a fairly recent graduate of the Balding school of apprentice jockeys himself, has been helpful to the 18 year old apprentice and his own rapid rise from star apprentice to holder of one of racing’s most prestigious riding jobs must surely give encouragement to the younger jockey.
Things happen quickly when you are a top apprentice on the fast track to the top but everything appears to be in place to allow Jason Watson every chance of making a success of things as he looks forward to that potentially tricky first season competing on equal terms as a top-flight professional.
Jason Watson on Three Little Birds
Simply Breathless and Jason Watson win the 1m Fillies Handicap at Ascot on Sept 8 from Amandine and David Egan