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Monday, 22 October, 2018

Gordon-Watson hoping King George contender Poet's can enhance unique record

Nancy Sexton talks to Saeed Suhail's long-standing bloodstock agent

Charlie Gordon-Watson: "John Gosden was the underbidder so that gave me encouragement"
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By the law of averages there will always be failures in this volatile business, where valuations can fluctuate and crash with alarming rapidity.

Saeed Suhail, however, might beg to differ. Aided by his long-time agent Charlie Gordon-Watson, Suhail came out of the 2014 Tattersalls October Sale with three additions to his string; nearly three years on and each of them – Poet’s Word, Across The Stars and Ballet Concerto – is a Group winner, providing the duo with an enviable full house.

Sure, it’s a small group with which to play but those horses have earned more than £2.45 million, a sum that will swell considerably on Saturday if the leading light of the trio, Poet’s Word, can land the King George at Ascot.

Poet’s Word arrives at Ascot fresh off that memorable defeat of Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. It was a deserved Group 1 success for the Poet’s Voice colt following a series of creditable efforts at the top level and it earned him a place in the same bracket as former Group 1-winning Suhail colourbearers such as King’s Best, Kris Kin, Cannock Chase and Dilshaan.

“Winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes was up with the Classic winners because it's the premier race at Ascot,” says Gordon-Watson, “and it was what the horse deserved after all his Group 1 near misses. With Cracksman the hot favourite, it was also ironic that Poet’s Word originates from a Hascombe family and that John Gosden was the underbidder on him.”

The association between Suhail and Gordon-Watson goes back more than 20 years. Along the way, there has been the brilliance of King’s Best as well as a Derby victory courtesy of Kris Kin. Both horses were testament to the skill of Kieren Fallon and their trainer Sir Michael Stoute, who runs Poet’s Word in addition to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild’s Crystal Ocean as he goes in search of a record sixth King George on Saturday.

Poet's Word storms clear of Cracksman to win the Prince of Wales's Stakes
“It all came about through my association with Gainsborough Stud and Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum, who Saeed was connected to,” says Gordon-Watson. “Thanks to Michael Goodbody and Ben Hanbury, it all started from there.

“It was always the plan to find Classic horses, starting with the Guineas and Derby types.

“The first good horse was Beat All, who to this day I feel was unlucky not to win the 1999 Derby. He was by Dynaformer – I identified the Roberto line as a possible route to finding a Derby winner and back then there was also Silver Hawk, Kris S and Lear Fan. A lot of the horses bought at the time for Saeed were by those stallions.”

At 300,000gns, Poet’s Word was one of the more expensive yearlings sold during Book 2 of the October Sale. Even so, he was still some way down the pecking order when it came to the early sales record of his sire Poet’s Voice, then an unproven stallion whose first crop sold for up to 700,000gns off a £12,000 fee.

“The Poet’s Voice yearlings had sold very well in Book 1 and were solid types,” he says. “Poet’s Word was stabled in the Right Yard, where there is very little room to see a horse walk, but this horse moved like silk and with great authority – he had a great swagger to him. He was a good, strong colour, had a good eye and good width. He didn’t need to walk very far for us to see what he could do.”

Bred by Barry and Fiona Reilly of Woodcote Stud, Poet’s Word was a half-brother to Malabar, then a smart juvenile who would go on to win the following year’s Group 3 Thoroughbred Stakes at Goodwood, and out of Whirly Bird, a winning Nashwan granddaughter of the influential mare Inchmurrin.

“I've never been wild about Nashwan mares but this horse was such an exceptional individual that my bias was overtaken,” says Gordon-Watson. “Also, he was being sold by very good breeders in Barry and Fiona Reilly, from whom I had recently bought Kingston Hill, and came from a strong Hascombe family.

Poet's Word in the Tattersalls ring during Book 2 of the 2014 October Yearling Sale
“To pay 300,000gns was a lot at the time but I very much believed in the horse as a physical specimen and in his pedigree. Luckily Saeed wanted to buy one more horse and, as it was the first day of Book 2, he happened to be there and told me to find him the best horse in the sale. John Gosden was the underbidder, so that gave me encouragement, and obviously Michael liked him as well.”

Thus the Poet’s Voice colt was added to the 2014 intake of yearlings alongside two other colts who had been bought the previous week at Book 1.

The first, a 600,000gns Sea The Stars colt bred and sold by Anthony Oppenheimer’s Hascombe and Valiant Studs, was Across The Stars, the 2016 King Edward VII Stakes winner. The second, a Dansili colt bred and sold by Meon Valley Stud, cost 300,000gns and turned out to be Ballet Concerto, who had a pair of Group 3 wins in the Sovereign Stakes and 32Red Mile in the second half of last season before succumbing to a heart attack.

“Across The Stars was an exceptionally classy individual,” says Gordon-Watson. “He came from a top farm in Hascombe, from whom we had also bought [Grade 1 winner] Cannock Chase. He was very easy to identify and it was a question of being able to afford him. It wasn’t rocket science.

“Ballet Concerto again came from one of the best nurseries in Meon Valley Stud, with whom I've had an association for many years. They consistently sell good horses. Dansili is a very reliable sire and he was just a straightforward horse with no issues. He turned out to be a very solid horse and was improving all the time. Had he not met his sad end, he could have been a major player in the top mile-to-ten-furlong races this year.”

Kris Kin: the Saeed Suhail colourbearer wins the 2003 Derby
Back in 2003 the King George was seemingly within reach for the Suhail-Stoute partnership as Kris Kin took his chance off the back of his Derby win. As it turned out, the colt was no match for his old foe Alamshar, who slammed a high-quality field for John Oxx. Connections are entitled to hope that Poet’s Word, with his record of consistent progression and affinity for Ascot, can provide a better outcome in this year’s renewal.

“It's unusual for Saeed to buy only three yearlings in one year,” says Gordon-Watson. “For all of them to win Group races is an outstanding training performance by Sir Michael Stoute.

“He has been a lucky and successful owner. But then he deserves to be as he's not afraid to stick his neck out and have a real go.”


King’s Best
I was very fortunate to get any of the credit for buying King’s Best. It was more of a team effort because he was meant to be bought for Sheikh Maktoum and Saeed ended up with him. I had seen him at Haras d’Etreham before the sale and he had great presence and, as it turned out, an exceptional pedigree.

He wasn't the luckiest of horses, his career being cut short. But he was sensational the day he won the Guineas, when he blew away Giant’s Causeway. He was wonderfully handled by Sir Michael Stoute because I think it’s fair to say he wasn't the most straightforward of horses.

Kris Kin
Kris Kin gave me the greatest pleasure because the Epsom Derby is the best race in the world. He was bought to win the Derby, being from a good Niarchos family and out of a Rainbow Quest mare. It was an unbelievable day and Kieren Fallon was at his very best. Of course, it was a great training performance from Sir Michael because I don’t think he was the easiest to train.

He may not have been one of the better Derby winners, as a lot of people have always told me, most of whom have never been anywhere near winning a Derby. I always tell them to try winning it.

And the one that got away
Probably Golden Horn. We always try to buy from Hascombe but at the time colts by Cape Cross just lacked appeal. I'm culpable for that, though at the time I don’t think a Cape Cross colt would have excited him.

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Poet’s Word was stabled in the Right Yard where there is very little room to see a horse walk but this horse moved like silk
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