When Jason Watson was sat in an ambulance following a fall at Kempton in January, any number of thoughts must have crossed his mind – but ending the year with the ride aboard a Classic favourite was perhaps not among them.
Frustration at missing two and a half months of the year with a fractures in his neck disappeared when Quadrilateral powered to the head of the ante-post market for the 1000 Guineas following her Fillies’ Mile win at Newmaket.
Having secured one Group One victory aboard the daughter of Frankel in his first year as stable jockey to Roger Charlton, the 19-year-old is confident she has what it takes to give him a first British Classic success back at the Rowley Mile in May.
Watson said: “It was a big step up in the Fillies’ Mile on her third run – and despite her inexperience and having to deal with Newmarket’s undulations, her class and quality got her there.
“Her pedigree suggests the mile is fine and that she would stay further, potentially. People have been saying she is more of an Oaks filly. But it is hard to say at this stage, because she was still running green that day at Newmarket.
“If she knew her job a bit more and knew how to handle a race like that, you would see a lot more turn of foot and speed from her and it would all be a bit more instant.
“Fingers crossed, if she keeps safe over the winter and we have a good start next year, things will go smoothly – and she will win more big races.”
After a year which threatened to be one forget yet turned into one to savour, with numerous big-race triumphs, Watson believes that spell on the sidelines helped him acclimatise to his new role.
He said: “Getting an injury like that is not what you want, especially going into the new role, but I was lucky it wasn’t as severe as it could have been.
“I was thinking, ‘This is a long time out,and I’m not used to this’, because I had a busy time last year, so to be suddenly sitting around doing nothing is a big change.
“I saw it as a bit of an opportunity to go into the yard at Beckhampton to look at the horses and get a feel for them and the staff.
“In retrospect, it gave me a bit of time to connect with everyone and see how things were done – which was probably not a bad thing.”
Being given a job of such calibre so early in his career could have easily been a step too far for the teenager, but it is a working relationship that has only blossomed over the course of the past 12 months.
Watson added: “It has gone pretty smoothly- and I have a good relationship with the boss, and his son Harry is really involved, and I get on well with him.
“The rest of the team have been at the yard for 20 years or more, so they know what they are talking about and how things are done.
“He is a very easy man to work for. He never seems flustered and takes everything on the chin when things aren’t going right.
“At the end of the day, our end goal is to please our owners and do the best we can – and he reminds you of that.”
While Watson has high hopes for Quadrilateral next year, he is confident stablemate Headman can also progress from being a solid Group Two horse into a genuine top-level performer.
He said: “Headman has been a great horse, and I’m excited about him next year. That second race in France, although it was a Group Two, was like a Group One – and everything went against him that day, and he pulled it off.
“In the Irish Champion Stakes it was a big ask, because he had a busy year with a lot of travelling – and things didn’t go well from the start. I thought we did well to finish where we did.
“He has shown the credentials for a Group One horse – and now I have experience of what a Group One horse is, I like to think he is one.”
Ever since claiming last year’s apprentice title, Watson has been earmarked as a future champion jockey – and with a bit of luck, he hopes he will be in a position to be among the contenders for the coveted crown.
He said: “Winning the title has been on my mind since winning the champion apprentice title. This year was a write-off, but who knows about next year?
“I was very fortunate I got the support from the trainers and owners after my injury, from what we had done together the previous year.
“I’d like to think maybe next year could be a potential time to go for it, but it is a big step up. It is a big ask, but we will just see.”