Archie Watson dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory

Archie Watson would rank a Cheltenham Festival winner as similarly significant to Royal Ascot success as he prepares Stag Horn for a tilt at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

The trainer is more readily associated with the Flat having enjoyed Group One glory, with Stag Horn initially a performer on the level before taking up hurdling in December.

Winning a novice hurdle at Hereford on his debut, the Golden Horn gelding then stepped up to Grade Two level in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in January.

Jumping soundly from the front under Nick Scholfield, Watson’s bay ran on to an impressive seven-length victory to maintain his flawless record under the National Hunt code.

“Although I’ve said his jumping has been good he did make a couple of novicey errors which meant he didn’t win as well as he should have done at Hereford but he really tidied that up at Warwick,” the trainer said.

Stag Horn before the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick
Stag Horn before the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick (Simon Marper/PA)

“He did everything that we asked of him and Nick, who will ride him at Cheltenham, was amazed how well he jumped that day and I thought that he won very well.

“He was very green in the straight still looking around plenty and I’m sure he will come on again for that.”

Now the Albert Bartlett at the Festival beckons, a meeting that holds equivalent significance to Royal Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup in Watson’s eyes.

“I grew up being a fan of jump racing so it is amazing to have a runner at the Festival. We are really looking forward to having a runner there on the big occasion,” he said.

“We are under no illusions how hard the job will be, but you have to say that he goes there with a chance. It is very exciting for the owners (Ben and Sir Martyn Arbib) and everyone in the yard to have a horse that is hopefully going to Cheltenham with a viable chance, which is good.

Stag Horn winning The Royal Sussex Regiment Handicap at Goodwood
Stag Horn winning The Royal Sussex Regiment Handicap at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think a lot of trainers would be happy with a horse like this going into a race like the Albert Bartlett.

“Cheltenham is great just like Royal Ascot is on the Flat, but we wouldn’t be running him at Cheltenham if we didn’t think he had a chance.

“For us on the Flat it is winning a Group One, winning at Royal Ascot and winning at the Breeders’ Cup that are the most important ones, but if you could have a Festival winner it would be right up there.”

Watson’s Lambourn base only houses a handful of jumpers and will remain that way, with his partner and amateur dual-purpose jockey Brodie Hampson very much involved with the National Hunt string.

“I love having a few jumpers around and that is the way we would probably like to do it,” he said.

“We are not suddenly going to have a string of 50 jumpers here. It will always be between five and 10, but it would be good if we could have a few high-class ones.

“These horses though are hard to come by and that is why we are lucky to have Stag Horn.

“If he turned up in a sale every jumps trainer in Britain and Ireland would want to have him so we are lucky he is a home grown that has taken to hurdling.

“He is good on the Flat, but I feel like he has got a lot of class for this sphere and he has shown that.

“Whatever happens at Cheltenham though he is a Grade Two winner already, but I hope he will continue running in nice races over obstacles.”

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