He might be a doctor, but Don Watson warns you wouldn’t want him performing any surgical procedures.
As he points out he is a Doctor of Philosophy who has raced horses for more than 40 years, but it’s only been in recent years he has dabbled in breeding them.
The 71-year-old Watson is an award winning author who has written several books and in the 1980s wrote political satire for comedian Max Giles and then became a speechwriter for Prime Minister Paul Keating.
Watson, in many ways, is just another example of the way racing attracts and so often mesmerises and claims people from all walks of life.
His first crack at breeding was more than six years ago when he did a bit of research and sent a mare named Domino Lady (Umatilla x Avietwo) to the Group winning stallion Stryker (Fastnet Rock x Laetitia).
Watson had raced Domino Lady with some success with Benalla trainer Peter Burgun and a small group of other friends. She won three races before falling victim to the mosquito carrying viral disease, Ross River fever.
“Domino Lady won three races for us but contracted Ross River fever and that buggered her up,” he said.
“Myself and my wife Shirley thought she could win a race in Melbourne over 2000m or so and we won first up with her every time.
“But after that it was the too hard basket and her body couldn’t cope with the Ross River fever after we found out what was going on. I think she is going to be a pretty handy broodmare.
“Her first foal was Miss Midian but she got a virus which buggered her. We tried everything with her.”
Quick to point out he is no Rick Jamieson of Black Caviar fame, Watson says he is an amateur but believes he has got better at the breeding game since sending Domino Lady to Stryker when the stallion was standing at Three Bridges Thoroughbreds at Eddington.
The mating produced Lady Day, a mare that notched up back-to-back victories with a win at Wodonga last Friday for Watson, Burgun and their co-owners and friends.
Lady Day has won five races, as well as a second and two thirds, from 23 starts.
Watson said Stryker’s often win early and then battle along but five-year-old Lady Day has bucked the trend and trained on.
And he explains part of the reason why he sent the mare to Stryker was because he’d met Three Bridge’s owner Peter Liston.
“I can remember that Stryker was a really well bred horse by Fastnet Rock and from Denise Joy’s family and I thought they match up really well,” Watson said.
“She was always a nice-looking foal and Peter (Burgun) liked her from the moment he saw her.”
While Watson said there was no science into his first breeding venture, he now does a lot more than just looking at nicks and always goes a bit further into his research and has selected all the stallions for Domino Lady.
The price of the service fee was always a factor with only a small ownership group.
Watson said Burgun was always confident Domino Lady would be a good broodmare.
“She is a beautiful animal, a lovely creature,” he said.
Domino Lady’s first foal was by Moshe, but the filly showed little in her six starts. Then Lady Day was produced, the broodmare then slipped to Moshe, missed to Unencumbered and then had a colt to Trust In A Gust before missing to Magnus.
Domino Lady now also has a yearling colt by Highland Reel and a colt by Puissance de Lune.
“Peter thinks the Trust In A Gust is a beauty and I thought the Storm Cat thing would work as I’d read a bit about that,” Watson said.
“To be honest, I like dealing with Swettenham (Stud) as they are nice folk. I loved Highland Reel as a racehorse and it makes my heart beat fast watching his tapes.
“I just love Galileo and the yearling we have looks like Highland Reel and Galileo and is an absolute knock out.”
Watson said the four-week-old colt by Puissance de Lune has the longest legs he’s even seen.
Domino Lady has gone to Rosemont Stud’s Shamus Award this season.
Watson described breeding Lady Day to win a race as the most “unqualified success” in his life.
“It’s only a pure hobby and I really haven’t got time to be doing it but I have loved racing since I was five-years-old,” he said.
“And here I am and she keeps popping them out and the owners keep thinking that’s another one I have to pay for.
“I write for a living and I’m 71-years-old and if I had my life again I might become a horse breeder and I said that to my wife the other day and she just snarled at me.
“My special skill is getting people into horses before they know it.”
Watson said his first share in a horse was in the late 1980s with an extremely slow gelding called Really Dry which was trained by Jim Conlan. He said he raced another three slow ones.
But he has been with Burgun for more than 30 years and has had plenty of winners.
Burgun said it was always good to win races for good clients and mates. And four of Lady Day’s wins have been ridden by Burgun’s wife, Shirley Hunter.
Burgun said that Watson looks after the breeding side of things.
“Don has been a client of mine and more a good mate and friend for probably 40 years,” Burgun said.
“We have trained a lot of winners for him. He is in most of our horses and we train them and they work out the rest of it.
“I don’t know anything about the breeding and pedigrees and they could tell me they’d put a donkey over her and I’d probably believe them.”
Burgun, who likes to buy tried horses, has 11 horses in work and trains at his 40 acre property which has all the facilities, including a 1000m sand track.
And Stryker is still serving mares, just across the border at Deniliquin in New South Wales where he stands at Basham Thoroughbreds.