Free thinking Watson taking the Brave man’s route

Brave Emperor with his regular partner Luke Morris.
Brave Emperor with his regular partner Luke Morris.

He shares a surname with Dr Watson but there’s an intriguing dash of a young Sherlock Holmes about the latest global handler heading to Hong Kong in the hope of beating the mighty Golden Sixty.

Archie Watson isn’t short of the good doctor’s admirable traits but other aspects of his appearance and persona carry clear echoes of the legendary fictional detective known to millions of Chinese fans as Curly Fu.

It’s there in his tall, lean frame and an intense demeanour that was on full view when he prowled a stormy Royal Ascot winner’s enclosure in his black silk top hat waiting for stewards to decide the fate of Dragon Symbol in the 2021 Commonwealth Cup.

That case ended in frustration when the panel demoted his star sprinter for hampering American raider Campanelle but Watson left those memories well behind with a spectacular sprint treble provided by Bradsell, Rhythm N Hooves and Saint Lawrence at the world’s most famous summer festival last year.

All three wins showcased Watson’s precision planning but the echoes of Holmes ring even more clearly through the outside-the-box thinking that brings Brave Emperor to the FWD Champions Mile by way of a global tour embracing a remarkable seven trips to Europe and a memorable visit to Qatar.

Archie Watson is one of the emerging talents in the racing world.
Archie Watson is one of the emerging talents in the racing world.

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to aim for the Champions Mile,” he says.

“The prize money (HK$22 million) is fantastic and we’ve always said we would love to have the right horse to go to Hong Kong.

“Our good sprinter Glen Shiel needed a straight track, so we couldn’t accept an invitation to the Hong Kong Sprint, but Brave Emperor should be suitable as he’s very uncomplicated with good gate speed and a turning mile on fast ground ought to suit him.

“He was a big, raw horse early on but the way he’s kept improving is remarkable. I’ve never had one so consistent and so tough who runs his heart out every time and my travelling head lad Louis Wicks and my assistant Steph Joannides both say that he just thrives for being away.”

And, after racking up thousands of air miles with a gelding who cost just £19,000 as a yearling, Louis and Steph ought to know.

Brave Emperor won a listed event in the south of France on his first foreign trip last year before winning a G3 in Germany and finishing third at the same level in Sweden.

A non-staying Royal Ascot defeat was followed by two more G3 wins at Deauville and Dusseldorf (with another quick German trip sandwiched in between) but the hardy Sioux Nation gelding was only just getting going.

“I think the first time he really caught the attention was in his G2 win in Italy last November,” adds Watson.

“He was up against a highly rated English horse called Poker Face, who was fresh from a strong G2 win at Longchamp on Arc weekend, and he beat him handsomely by four lengths.

“Prior to that he’d been a little under the radar running against German and French G3 and G2 horses. That form wasn’t easy to assess but his San Siro performance made me think ‘here we go’ and he confirmed that form in Qatar in February, where he beat two very smart horses and gave us all a great day out.”

Cool hand Luke has his finger on the button

Young trainers tend to be a product of their background and Watson’s racing pedigree is shot through with methodical mentors.

Leading American-based handler Graham Motion and South African racing legend Alec Laird – who masterminded one of the most famous international raids in Hong Kong history when London News won the QEII Cup under Douglas Whyte in 1997 – were early influences.

A four-year spell assisting William Haggas as the Newmarket trainer moved up the Premier League completed the learning process and Watson has put his education to good use since setting out on his own at Lambourn’s famous Saxon Gate Stables in 2016, saddling around 700 winners and showing a sharp eye for prime openings at home and abroad.

Europe’s leading female jockey Hollie Doyle has partnered a significant chunk of those winners but Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winning rider Luke Morris secured the ride on Brave Emperor early in his career and the pair have been inseparable ever since.

“Luke knows exactly when to press the button on Brave Emperor and gave him an absolute peach of a ride in Qatar,” adds Watson.

“We’ve had great times there, especially when Outbox won the Amir Trophy in 2022, and the fact that this horse runs in the colours of the Middleham Park syndicate meant he had a lot of owners there to enjoy it.”

Watson has never been to Hong Kong but has watched with interest from afar over the last four years as Golden Sixty has turned away a long line of international G1 winners from all over the world.

So why should Brave Emperor fare any better than high-class milers like Admire Mars, Salios, Serifos, Namur, Order of Australia and Mother Earth?

“Golden Sixty has a phenomenal record and it’s a pretty daunting prospect to take him on,” admits Watson.

“We know our horse has something to find on ratings for his first run in G1 company but having a runner on a huge day like this is a wonderful showcase for our stable and we are all looking forward to it tremendously.”

The opportunity to advertise his skills on a global stage is clearly a key factor in Watson’s decision to send Brave Emperor in deeper than ever before.

Add in huge prize money with a horse who relishes long distance raids, not to mention the chance to visit the city where his parents met in the 1980s, and you can see why Brave Emperor is on his travels again.

As his trainer suggests, the decision to take on the most decorated horse in Hong Kong history is based partly on romance but largely on calm, considered logic.

Not so much a difficult choice for horse racing’s Holmes, Rather a case of: ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’

By Graham Cunningham, HKJC

Author: iRace