Prince among agents; Tom Goff talks to Charlie Gordon-Watson, the successful bloodstock agent who was responsible for buying Desert Prince and Queensland Star, both fancied this afternoon.
The yearling was purchased by Gordon-Watson for owner Edward St George's Lucayan Stud for 62,000gns. He was named Desert Prince and last month, when winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas, he became the 12th individual Group 1 winner and the sixth Classic winner the 38-year-old has bought for his ever-growing band of satisfied clients.
This afternoon, Desert Prince bids to better that record in the St James's Palace Stakes and become the ninth Royal Ascot winner Gordon-Watson has purchased.
"At the sales, Desert Prince stood out because he was just a great athletic horse," recalls Gordon-Watson. "He had a good pedigree with Fairy Footsteps and Light Cavalry in there on the dam's side. On pedigree, I thought he had a chance of producing the goods.
"David Loder and I knew Desert Prince was going to make more than St George was prepared to pay. We managed to track him down in London, where he was having lunch. We told him the horse was definitely worth having. He gave us the OK and he's the most expensive horse St George has ever bought.
"David said last year that he thought Desert Prince could be one of the best horses he's ever trained and he's been proved right. The Irish Guineas did go perfectly for him but you need luck in Classics.
"Also, the way he quickened from the furlong-marker, he would have been hard to beat anyway and I'm sure he'll run a big race in the St James's Palace."
Gordon-Watson has been buying yearlings for St George for four years now and the success-rate has been phenomenal. St George gives him a budget and lets Charlie get on with it. In the first year, the yearlings had to average 30,000gns.
"We've got him up a bit more now," says Charlie. "Out of the first crop I bought for him we had Bahamian Knight, who cost $45,000 and won the Italian Derby and about pounds 300,000 in prize-money, and Lucayan Prince, who cost $55,000 and won the Jersey at Ascot.
"The next year we had Bahamian Bounty. I thought he was going to make 70-80,000gns at the sales. But he was about to go under the hammer for 40,000gns, so I went in and snapped him up for 45,000gns and just thought I would sort it all out later.
"Within about a minute, David Loder tapped me on the shoulder and said: "I'll have that." He won the Prix Morny, was sold to Godolphin and then won the Middle Park. That's how lucky St George is. Since then we've had Desert Prince, Lucayan Indian, who looks like being pretty good, and Daring Derek. All three are running at Ascot this week-all with chances of winning."
So what is the Gordon-Watson formula for success? The obvious answer is that he has a very good eye for picking out a classy individual. But, as he is quick to point out, anyone can buy the perfect horse.
"I don't have unlimited amounts to spend," he says. "You have to balance pedigree, faults and value to find a happy medium. They're going to have the odd little thing wrong with them. They've got to be athletic and, when I'm buying for David Loder, look as though they're going to make two-year-olds."
Gordon-Watson's training in the bloodstock world was as varied as it was specialised and informative. "I worked for Fulke Johnson Houghton as an assistant from 1979 to '83 when he trained for the Aga Khan. Then I was offered a job with Robert Sangster in the Isle of Man. I took it without really thinking about it and it was a great experience."
HE adds "Then I decided I wanted to be my own boss because nobody else would employ me, so I started my own company. It was by accident really and the first two people who helped me were Paul Cole and Jack Ramsden. The market was at its very height when I started off and there was some silly money being paid for horses. The first three years were absolute hell and I wouldn't want to go through it again. But I had some lucky breaks at the right time, which you've got to have.
"The first breakthrough came with Pass The Peace. She was bought for Michael Bell's father, Brian, who bought two horses to be trained by Paul Cole at two so that when Michael started training, they were three-year- olds.
"Brian Bell gave me the order at Royal Ascot in 1987. He said: 'Right, Watson, I want one horse to win the Ascot Gold Cup and another very fast two-year-old filly, and you've got a budget of no more than 15,000gns for the two.'
"We bought Pass The Peace for 9,500gns. She was champion two-year-old filly and won the Cheveley Park, and we bought a horse called Ardoran by Little Wolf. He was a stayer but only managed to win a two-mile maiden at Folkestone.
"When Pass The Peace joined Michael as a three-year-old, she was his first winner when landing the Fred Darling and was second in the French Guineas. She was sold for a lot of money to Sheikh Mohammed and ended up being the dam of Embassy."
From there, Gordon-Watson's relationship with Cole grew. His purchase of the likes of 1990 St Leger hero Snurge for 36,000gns and 1992 French 1,000 Guineas heroine Culture Vulture for $120,000 put Gordon-Watson firmly on the map in this highly competitive business. His rise to the top was nothing short of meteoric and was accompanied by some aggressive marketing tactics.
NOW a little less frantic, but just as hard-working and competitive, Gordon-Watson also works for Lord Lloyd-Webber's Watership Down Stud, advising on the purchase of yearlings and mares as well as reporting on all the stock once a month.
His newest client is Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, for whom he bought today's Coventry Stakes contender Queensland Star for 17,000gns at the Tattersalls October Sales last year. "I went to see him last September when United played Chelsea. He gave us a budget and I suggested he should buy 60 per cent of two horses so that if anything went wrong with one, then he'd still be OK. I liked Queensland Star. He looked as though he would develop into something. He's won two races from three starts and it's been a dream situation.
"I keep warning Alex that it's going to come to an end but he won't have it. He's a great enthusiast and it's great for racing."
Looking to the future, Gordon-Watson laments Loder's departure to train for Godolphin in France. "For me, David going is a disaster. I'm disappointed, as it's the loss of a great trainer who I've had fantastic results with and it was a system that worked. But hopefully, one door closes and another one opens.
"My other worry is that it's getting harder and harder to buy good horses at the sales, as there are fewer quality horses coming through the ring. Another problem is soundness. The breed is becoming weaker and some owners don't realise that they're lucky enough to have a runner, let alone a winner.
"I'm a terrible worrier about everything, though I wouldn't work so well if I wasn't on edge sometimes. I've got myself to a level now that I need a good horse every year. Last year I had Compton Place and this year there's been Desert Prince. A big winner is an enormous relief and, of course, I enjoy it. But if I don't keep the success-rate going then people might start to write me off."
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jun 16, 1998|
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