Feature Story



By Duane Fonseca - 

Multiple champion trainer Doug Watson might never have gushed about a horse before. But his latest stable star, Kabirkhan, definitely seems to have hit his sweet spot. It might not have been love at first sight for the American, but Watson has fallen in love with the four-year-old full son of California Chrome and is relishing running him in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates Airline, a race his father won in 2016. “We are very fortunate to have him and it’s just such a good story behind him. Where he has come from and hopefully where he is going. It’s exciting for the yard. He has added a lot of excitement to the season and I wouldn’t trade him,” said Watson, after Kabirkhan’s success in the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge presented by Longines; which ended the Red Stables supremo’s longrunning drought for a first ever victory at the highest level.


Watson knows his trainee inside out and has been impressed with Kabirkhan, whose owner Tlek Mukanbetkaliyev brought him to Red Stables the winner of 10 of his 11 starts in Kazakhstan and Russia. The only blemish on an otherwise unspoilt resume was delivered by Hero Mo, in the Russian Derby at Krasnodar. But Kabirkhan would exact revenge the very next time they met — on their UAE debut in an 85-105 handicap over 2000m at Meydan. “When they shipped over we took both of them to Meydan to work over there and get used to the surface and they both worked extremely well, but the one thing I think we all commented on was how they both galloped out,” Watson revealed. “They (riders) couldn’t pull them up after five furlongs (1000m), they just wanted to go. We brought them back. We brought him (Kabirkhan) back and Oscar Chavez who gets on him everyday, I told him we got to a 5/8ths work and he worked the 5/8ths.


“Oscar’s not know for going too fast on a horse in the morning and when he galloped out it was like 1:09 for the six furlongs (1200m) so he did the five furlongs and galloped out in 1:09 and me and my assistant Dion (McFadzean) we just looked at each other and thought that can’t be right. “So long story short, next week I put Pat (Dobbs) on him and told him we went a little too fast last week, but he did the exact same thing. It was so effortless in the morning and in the races too you can see he carries himself so effortlessly. “Then the nerves started kicking in whether or not we could compete against the local horses here. We’ve now proven we can.” Watson knew this was no normal horse and had initially planned on dispatching Kabirkhan in the Super Saturday feature, the Group 2 Al Maktoum Classic.


However, he ended up resisting the urge, despite there being a four-week break between Super Saturday, widely considered a traditional curtain raiser for the Dubai World Cup, and the showpiece night itself on account of the new Dubai Racing Carnival schedule. “This year it’s unique, but in past years it would have been straight to the Dubai World Cup,” Watson had said, when initially hinting the race would serve as more match practice for the Red Stables flagbearer. “Because they’ve given us four weeks, 28 days between Super Saturday and the Dubai World Cup, it gives him time to recover. “He’s been taking his races extremely well and it’s hard to keep him under grips here in the morning. It’s going to get much tougher on DWC night, but I think the more experience he has might just help him in the end. He might just get used to it.”


It’s hard to think of the G1 Al Maktoum Challenge being Watson’s first success at the highest level. The fact is though, it is! “There aren’t too many of them (Group 1s) and honestly most of them are on the turf here,” he explained. “I think we have like 13-14 Purebred Arabian Group One wins, Group Twos we’ve won the Godolphin Mile thrice and the Zabeel Mile now (with San Donato) and a few of those, but there’s very few on the dirt and so it’s just really nice to be in the mix.” He might have got the G1 monkey off his back, but Watson is far more happier for Kabirkhan’s owner Mukanbetkaliyev, who bought this son of California Chrome who went through the sales ring as a yearling at Keeneland virtually unnoticed in 2022. “You could tell after the first win, the joy they had watching him win like that,” Watson added. “Their whole group was right behind me as I was watching and one of the guys fell into the bushes trying to jump the fence, but it’s really exciting and I am so happy for them. “It says a lot about their racing and I think they’re happy because it has shown that they can go and run on the international scene.” The story of a horse going from the sodden provincial tracks of Kazakhstan and reaching the pinnacle of the sport whereby he casts his name into the hat for one of the world’s most-sought prizes is the stuff of fairytales. Victory on March 30th would certainly make the handsome chestnut a legend.


“I don’t know (if he can win the Dubai World). It’s a tough one,” Watson said. “There’s a few that’ll are over from the Saudi Cup. The Japanese are tough and the American horses are also here. “I was talking with my old boss, Kiaran McLaughlin, the other evening about the horse and I said something about running back in the third leg and then going to DWC night and that we are going to be even money in the third leg, 10-1 on DWC night and he said you won’t be 10-1, so that got me thinking a little bit. “He (Kabirkhan) does carry himself a little bit in a way that no other horse we’ve had over that trip has ever carried himself, so it’s interesting to think about and yes I have had some sleepless nights of late, but I'd rather have the pressure than not.”