Chatting With… Jason Watson

jason watson
Jason Watson with the Champion Apprentice Trophy (Credit: Press Association)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Jason Watson has burst onto the flat racing scene in the past two years and has cemented himself as one of the top jockeys riding on the flat. In 2019, he became Roger Charlton’s first jockey, meaning he gets to ride top horses like Headman, Equilateral and Withhold for the Beckhampton Stables-based, maestro handler.

Jason’s interest in racing began aged six, “When I was young, I went to a riding school (Hamsey Riding School, in Lewes) and my instructor was ex jump jockey Ray Goldstein and his wife Sue. The stories from Ray’s life as a jockey intrigued me.”

Starting out with Ray opened up new contacts for Jason as word got around of his talents, “A few trainers came up to potentially go and work for them one day. But, my first racing job was for Gerry Enright (also an ex Jump jockey) he had a handle for of horses and I was only 13 years old or so. I started with him because one day he noticed me walking my dog pass the yard and he said “you look like a jockey” and I started going up to his on weekends to work and ride. I worked for a number of different trainers Gerry, Paddy Butler, Gary Moore and even worked for James Fanshawe’s sister but she didn’t trainer racehorses – she had Polo ponies. I left school at 13 and basically worked for all those yards for a year then stuck with just one trainer, Gary Moore. I was there until I was nearly 16. Then, I went to America for a month or so, to broaden my skills. Came back and went to work for Andrew Balding.” Andrew Balding has a reputation for being an ideal start for young apprentices and the likes of Oisin Murphy, William Buick and David Probert have learnt their trade from Kingsclere.

Jason’s first winner came in May 2017 at Salisbury, “My first winner was on a horse called “Many Dreams” for Gary Moore. It was an amazing feeling something I have never experienced before I got those butterflies… and it was even better because it was for Gary. The horse hadn’t won before and had raced 21 times so that felt even better.”

In August 2018, Jason partnered Gifted Master to win the Stewards’ Cup – a huge achievement for a young apprentice, “At the time, I was just starting to do quite well and my claim was running out fast. I hadn’t really ridden for Hugo Palmer much so it was a big deal to ride in a race like that for a big trainer. We were obviously carrying top weight in the race; I knew he was a talented horse and Hugo was hopeful. I remember his instructions “jump out let him travel where he’s happy, he normally leads but if they’re going too quick don’t force him. Go out there and have fun!” The race worked out well, I wasn’t pestered for the lead and could control the race how we wanted too. When we got headed 2 1/2 furlongs out, I was a little worried but Hugo said to me “he will keep fighting for you” so I had to bear that in mind. Gifted Master is an extremely tough horse and we wouldn’t have won that day had he not had been as tough as he is.”

This win was hugely important for his fledgling career, “That race put me on the map as one of the top apprentices around that season and, without that win, I don’t think I would have won the championship in the fashion I did.” Jason claimed top honours as the 2018 Champion Apprentice by a large margin and it meant an awful lot to him, “A lot of the top jockeys were previously champion apprentices so it was extremely important to me to take the same route. It was a great feeling.” In November 2018, Jason rode the Luca Cumani-trained God Given to a group one victory at Capannelle in Italy – an incredible achievement considering he’d started the flat season as a 7lbs claimer!

Jason emerged into the 2019 season in the role of stable jockey to Roger Charlton, “Roger isn’t just a top-class trainer but a top-class bloke. He’s a gentleman and a very well-educated man who has a lot of knowledge, very clever. I think the knowledge he has is priceless and it helps out when races don’t go to plan. He has great understanding of a race and race riding, so normally if plan A doesn’t work out and I have to change tactics, he understands why. Another thing he never seems pressured he is a very calm guy, never seems flustered. He’s very professional, and it makes you feel proud to be a part of his operation.” Roger has trained the winner of the Derby, the Irish Champion Stakes, the Prix du Jockey Club, the Prix du Cadran and the Prix de L’Abbaye (twice) as well as many more top-tier races in his career.

One of the new combination’s most notable horses from 2019 was Headman. This horse won once from two starts at two and probably needed the run when making his seasonal reappearance. Next time, the big, rangy son of Kingman managed to hold onto victory in the London Gold Cup at Newbury but the yard had bigger plans for him than class twos – he went over to Saint-Cloud and won a group two and then to Deauville for another group two, making him one of Jason’s favourite horses, “Headman is the Man😎 I’m in awe of him and yes, I do have a soft spot for him. He was impressive last year and progressed impressively, mentally at the start of the year he was very babyish and he grew up fast. Both his wins in France and his win at Newbury beforehand was impressive. He ran up against some stiff competition and things didn’t plan out in the Irish Champion Stakes. We didn’t jump well from the gates and from then on found it tough… but we were only beaten 4 lengths by Magical, who was one of the top horses in the world and had age and experience on her side that day.” If you couldn’t tell from that glowing review, Jason has high hopes for him when racing eventually starts again, “He is a beast of a thing, I am hopeful he would have improved from last year’s globe-trotting.”

I’m sure many of Jason’s colleagues would love to be in his position – as well as Headman, the exciting four year old, he has two live chances in both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas. Ladies first – Quadrilateral, a daughter of Frankel, ran in her first race on 16th August 2019. From mid-division, she manged to win by a neck. Next time, she went from last to first in a matter of strides, winning by nine lengths and earning herself a place in the Fillies Mile at Newmarket. She proved her class and battled on to win the group one contest by a head to Powerful Breeze, “Quadrilateral will always have that special place in my heart. She gave me my first domestic Group 1. I never thought it would become a reality to ride in a G1 at this stage in my career let alone win one. She gave me that and no one can take that away from me. I’ve seen her this year and she has done well from the winter. She is tough, and last year she won her races still being very inexperienced… so it’s exciting to see what she will be like with a lot more knowledge this year of her job.” This filly is one of the leading players for the 1000 Guineas, whenever it may take place, and the Charlton yard have done a phenomenal job with her thus far – three runs over the space of 56 days, culminating in a group one victory!

Kenzai Warrior at home at Roger Teal’s Lambourn-based yard. (@RogerTealRacing on Instagram)  

Some of you may have read my interview with Roger Teal and he pin-pointed Kenzai Warrior as an exciting three year old for this season with the Guineas in mind. Jason partnered this son of American sire Karakontie, for whom he is the most notable produce so far, on his first outing, “Kenzai Warrior has something special about him. He was always quiet a calm horse especially for a 2 year old. He was professional from day one and thought he would run well first time out. I was gutted I couldn’t ride him at Newmarket (due to a ban I picked up) and again thought he would be hard to beat. My only worried was the track and if his lack of education would catch him out… he won pleasingly even though he looked raw, and that’s the best thing about him and Quadrilateral, they’ve won their races not really knowing too much about their jobs. He shows natural ability which makes great race horses.”

The Guineas would’ve already happened if it wasn’t for the Coronavirus Pandemic and we’re all waiting on tenterhooks for the return of racing, “We are happy with the way the horses have been training through this pandemic. They’ve been very patient and professional about it.” Jason gave me a couple more horses to give to you guys to look out for, “There is a 2 year old by Iffraj. He’s called Encourage and he is owned by HM The Queen. He has potential for sure. 3 year olds other than Quadrilateral would probably be Pocket Square – she improved nicely last year and signed off her season with a Group 3 win in France. She looks stronger this year.”

With exciting horses to ride like the ones I’ve mentioned, Jason is well on his way to his goal of being Champion Jockey, “I want to be champion jockey. Of course, it’s a goal and it would be nice to do it more than once. I want to ride winners in all the big races and not just in this country round the world. I would say that’s more kind of where I would like to be heading big races at big meeting globally. That’s more what I’m interested in.”

Around the world, racing has kept going throughout lockdown in Australia, Japan and America and racing in France is set to resume on May 11th but it looks as though racing in Ireland won’t be taking place until the end of June. I asked Jason his thoughts on the best course of action for British Racing to resume and he said, “I think the racing industry best chance is to come back with strict and contracted measures and to limit as much they can the amount of people allowed to go racing (meaning staff). It’s a tough one and I wouldn’t like to be in head office!”

A topic that is widely talked about and fortunately taken a backseat recently is the ‘Whip Debate’. I am always keen to know the opinion of members of the racing community’s opinion on this topic and who better to ask than a jockey? “For me it’s a hard one… the whip is an aid, a source of correction not force… which I think people find hard to understand. I don’t really know the answer but I know the whip has been around for centuries, a lot has changed since racing started; in terms of the whip. I don’t think the rules are wrong or we need to change anything in the way we use the whip. Potentially, I think it would be best to just stricken the consequences if you abuse the rules.”

One of my other go-to questions as it always gets an interesting answer is ‘What can racing do to get more young people involved in the sport?’ Jason’s reply was, “I think we really need to try and televise racing more than just once a week on Freeview it needs to be on more and we need to advertise the sport more. I would love to go in school and do talks, I wish I had someone come in when I was at school, who was a jockey. It would be great fun and it’s such an interesting almost surreal sport sometimes. It’s definitely not understood enough by the public.” I completely agree with Jason here and maybe something Racing To School and Great British Racing could think about for the future!

I’m really grateful to Jason for taking time out to talk to me about life as a jockey. With his skills in the saddle and his attitude, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before Jason is Champion Jockey and, when racing resumes, we will definitely be seeing Jason win big races on, hopefully, the horses mentioned in this article!


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