Winning the championship is not all that matters

Doug Watson, Bhupat Seemar and Ernst Oertel united in view of trainer’s honours as 2022-2023 season reaches its finale


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Doug Watson's Isolate. — KT file
Doug Watson's Isolate. — KT file

Published: Thu 30 Mar 2023, 9:34 PM

Barely has the dust settled on another sensational Dubai World Cup meeting than the racing spotlight swivels to the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club for the first of three acts in a gripping battle for the 2022-2023 UAE Trainer’s Championship.

After six absorbing months of action at the country’s five racecourses, the honours for the coveted leading trainer title hangs in the balance.

Former seven-time champion Doug Watson, who won the Group 1 $1 million Godolphin Mile at Dubai’’s flagship meeting with Isolate, was in pole position with 39 wins and was closely followed by reigning champion Bhupat Seemar, with 37 wins.

Ernst Oertel, a former three-time champion handler, was in pursuit on 34 wins, before Thursday’s Abu Dhabi finale which featured five Arabian races and one for thoroughbreds.

Both Watson and Seemar primarily train thoroughbreds, while Oertel is a Purebred Arabian specialist.

Each of them had a different philosophical approach to winning the championship.

“With very few race meeting left, a lot matters on what happens over the next two weeks,” said former seven-time champion trainer Watson.

“But it’s not something that I’m thinking too much about. I always said that a win on Dubai World Cup night would mean more to me and now that we have that, I’d be happy with whatever happens in the Championship.

“Of course, it would be nice to win for the stable. We have a great team who do a fantastic job, so it would mean a lot to them. We’re in for some nail-biting nights," he added.

Watson paid tribute to his owners for their continuous support and for entrusting him with horses that have meant a lot.

“We are very lucky to have owners who give us such fantastic horses,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are the ones who deserve the success. We just train them and ensure that they’re in the best possible condition to be competitive.

Hopefully, we can take it down to the line.”

Seemar narrowly came close to winning the Group 1 $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen for the second straight year, only to see his stable star Switzerland cruelly touched off by US-raided Sibelius.

“He ran a huge race but was very unlucky on the line,” said Seemar, in his second season as head trainer of Zabeel Stables, one of the UAE's premium horse training facilities. “It was a hard pill to swallow.

“But we can’t complain, we’ve had a great season. We're far ahead in terms of prize money won which means that we’ve had a lot more quality runners. We’ve also seen a lot of horses finish second, third, and fourth. They have been consistent,” he added.

“If we do win the championship it will be bittersweet after what happened to Switzerland on the big night.

“But Doug and Ernst are very good trainers as are all the others in the UAE. So it's nice to be competing with them for the championship but I’ll be happy with whoever wins it in the end,” said Seemar.

Oertel, meanwhile said that he was not willing to get carried away but was happy to have delivered the successes he has to his owners with his Purebred Arabian stable.

"We are all friends and it’s good to have this sort of competition as it makes our job a lot more interesting,” said the South African handler. “I train only Arabians so my options are a bit limited. Perhaps I should get some thoroughbreds in just to make things more interesting.

“But having a mix of Arabian and thoroughbred trainers is a good mix. It’s good for the sport.”

Oertel also praised the UAE breeders for their commitment to increasing the number of horses that are currently in training across the country.

“The Arabian races have become more and more competitive over the past 10 years,’ he said “The numbers have increased, we’re got over 1200 horses in training which is pretty amazing.

“I’m not really worried about the championship, it’s the overall success of our horses that matters and as long as our owners are happy, we are happy.”


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