It’s 1994 and there are two days until Champions Day at Newmarket. You’re in pole position for top prize in the Tote Ten to Follow, but the two Champions Stakes market leaders have evaded your stable. You’re offered £20,000 for the stable. What do you do?
This was just the predicament David Watt found himself in.
The yearly wager
“I was probably about 24 or 25 at the time and worked at Tattersalls, in the bloodstock industry. I was sort of a runner, so not exactly breaking the bank. However, every year I had a side bet in the Tote Ten to Follow.
“Myself and the very well-known Martin Mitchell would pick 5 stables and take on the now Tattersalls Marketing Director Jimmy George and Simon Marsh, Watership Down’s General Manager.” The bet was a very nice dinner between the four of them with the loser paying.
“It took me about 15 minutes to piece my stables together. No thought went into it, you just need a bit of luck and I thought I could get a free dinner!”
David's Ten to Follow Stable
The competition started on the 28th April, Guineas weekend, and David’s best stable had taken shape:
East Of The Moon
Off the mark
The Flat Ten to Follow always poses a tricky start for players, with juvenile form not always the most reliable. Nevertheless, David got off to a reasonable start. King’s Theatre finished 13th in the 2000 Guineas and Balanchine finished second in the 2,000 Guineas at a hefty price.
“I’m off the mark is all I thought.” Two days later and David had his first winner. Lochsong won the Palace House at Newmarket.
“I remember being told the winter beforehand that they had seen the winner of the Guineas and Oaks in East Of The Moon, hence her inclusion. I also went and found the price of the double and was offered 80/1 so I took it.” She ended up winning both, but the French iterations. It’s mid May and David has his first two winners.
On a roll
There are very few bankers when it comes to building a Tote Ten to Follow stable but Vintage Crop was the one David saw as his flag-bearer. He was an older horse at the time, seven-years-old in fact, and he got his campaign off to the perfect start with a win in the Seval Listed race.
Vintage Crop enjoying retirement in 2011
A couple of days later Mehtaaf won the Irish Guineas and David was soon on a roll.
Bigstone, trained by Élie Lellouche, won the Prix D’ispahan on the 29th May. That would be his only victory in the competition as his Prix de la Foret win came a day after the competition closed, however, he had already added valuable points to David’s stable.
Just a day later and Lochsong was back in action at Sandown. She stormed home to win the Temple Stakes and all of a sudden we are into Epsom Derby weekend where Balinchine followed up her second in the British 1000 Guineas with a win in the Oaks. Another 50 points in the bag.
“I’m starting to think my bet with Martin, Simon and Jimmy might already be over. A nice dinner at Hole In The Wall might be on.”
Things seemed to go from good to amazing for David as once again, East Of The Moon stepped up to win the Prix Diane in mid June. “It was sort of at this point where my name was appearing in the Racing Post. They published the top 20 stables each week and my name was consistently involved.”
Vintage Crop was a horse that seemed to recover so quickly, so he just ran and ran and ran. “He finished second in the Gold Cup, but that didn’t matter as Lochsong came to my rescue yet again and won the King’s Stand at Ascot.”
One winner at Royal Ascot may not seem like the best of results and David may have expected to see himself drop out of the top 20, but once again it was Balinchine who came to his rescue as she won the Irish Derby.
“We get to the start of July and only four of my horses are yet to score. One of them was Lemon Souffle.” Trained by Richard Hannon Sr, the filly somehow managed to avoid Glatisant coming out of the stalls who unseated Pat Eddery and won quite comfortably in the end. Another Group 2 for David.
Lochsong on the nearside winning the Stewards Cup at Goodwood in 1992
Spreading the word
Playing the Tote Ten to Follow nowadays, some stables may go a couple of months without a winner. And it was at this point David had his longest spell without managing to bag one himself. It lasted 20 days. And a bit like London busses, the points started arriving in their droves again.
King’s Theatre won the King George again in remarkable fashion as Ezzoud lost his jock at the start and he only just managed to avoid a collision. Lochsong won the Goodwood King George and David now finds himself in 11th place.
“Over the course of the next couple weeks, rumours start circulating Newmarket that I was doing quite well and still had loads more runners lined up. I sort of needed to start thinking things through and try to work out all the maths. So I ring up my best mate, Jamie, who is an oil trader.”
For the following weeks, David buys a Racing Post every day and sees himself keep climbing the leaderboard. East Of The Moon wins the Jacques le Marois, Mehthaaf wins the Celebration Mile and White Muzzle the Grand Prix de Deauville.
White Muzzle finishing second in the King George
Dodging the bullets
“September is that sort of stage where you just need to dodge some bullets and I cannot explain how lucky I got in the Haydock Sprint Cup. Everyone had Owington and the way he was being spoken about, no one else should have turned up. However, the heavens opened the night before and the going went from good to heavy overnight and he finished four lengths back.
The St. Leger was next and I really thought this was the start of the downfall.” Moonax won. He was a Tote price of £41 and he didn’t exist in the game, another bullet dodged.
To make life better, Vintage Crop went and won the Irish St. Leger.
The home straight
“After that, you are only a couple of weeks away from the finish line. Lochsong won the Prix de l’Abbaye and now I’m second. This is when Jamie and I started working out the possible permutations of the results.” Hedging your bets is a very interesting way to ensure no matter what the outcome, you are going to see some return on your initial investment. This is exactly what David and Jamie decided to do.
“I am at Tattersalls on the Thursday before Champions Day and everyone seems to know who I am and that I am leading the Tote Ten to Follow. William Jarvis who trained Grand Lodge comes up to me says ‘Grand Lodge is going to win’. I don’t have Grand Lodge and the person in second does.”
“I won’t say who, but someone also came up to me that morning and offered me £20,000 for my stable. I don’t have a penny to my name but I couldn’t go all season and then bottle it at the last moment. That was when Jamie and I went to a friend and explained the situation. We asked to borrow some money and he agreed.”
“Next morning, I went and bought the Racing Post and for the first time all season they published the top 50 stables and we noticed the person in 21st could also take over us as they had Muhtarram. So suddenly we went from hedging on just the one horse to two.”
“I’m at Newmarket at the Tote desk and Jamie is in the ring. Every time I see Muhtarram on the drift, I throw down another thousand. I ended up having about £5,500 on him. Meanwhile, Jamie had a couple of thousand at 8/1 on Grand Lodge, more at 6/1 and more again at 5/1. The race is about to start and he is worried that I haven’t put enough on Muhtarram and so he quickly puts down another £1000.”
That winning moment
“It was just the most extraordinary race. At the bushes, I kid you not, Grand Lodge was a good two lengths in front and looked to be the only winner. Out of nowhere, Dernier Empereur, who has gone on to do nothing came and won and that sealed my win.”
“You slightly forget about the original bet I had at the beginning, £110,000 is a huge amount of money, life changing. So instead of being taken for dinner the four of us with our wives and girlfriends went to Paris for the weekend. I guess it wasn’t a surprise I managed to find a girlfriend between winning and going to Paris.”
“I didn’t spend a penny of it badly. The only nibble I had was the sapphire blue BMW 325i I bought. Shame it was stolen seven years later!”
It is a hell of a feat to win the Tote Ten to Follow, especially with 20 winners in the season but with side bets and temptations of offers from others, it must have been a nervous wait for David.
His story is told over and over in Newmarket.