Watson the perfect gent pursues his old interests

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The Independent Online

The term dual-purpose usually refers to a beast who shows his talent both on the Flat and over obstacles. But for Winker Watson, the jumping side of the versatility equation has a whole different connotation. His appearance in Saturday's July Cup at Newmarket, his second run after two years off the track, would be an ambitious enough comeback in itself, but is made the more unusual by the fact that the six-year-old has spent two seasons on duty as a stallion.

For most horses, athletic endeavour and sex do not normally sit comfortably alongside each other. The two activities generally produce not only different muscular development but different attitudes; once introduced to the delights of the breeding shed, the male equine mind is focused on, to use the time-honoured phrase, being only after one thing.

But Winker Watson is something of a rarity, a proper gentleman. "When he came to us earlier this year he astounded me," said trainer Mick Channon. "He's the kindest horse I've ever known, just a smashing horse to have around."

Horses do return to racecourse action after serving as stallions, but generally only if their manhood has fallen short; the now-gelded Kingsgate Native, a dual Group One winner before he proved infertile, is an example. Winker Watson has proved perfectly capable of fatherhood, but a bit more quality on his CV would undoubtedly help with harem numbers in the future.

The son of Piccolo was a classy, speedy juvenile when with Peter Chapple-Hyam, a winner at Royal Ascot. But after taking the July Stakes at Newmarket four years ago he failed to add further success and retired cheaply to Norman Court Stud (in which his trainer has an interest) in Wiltshire.

In his previous incarnation Winker Watson was tried in top mile company at three and four but is now being reinvented as a sprinter like his sire, whom Channon trained to win a Nunthorpe Stakes. And his effort to finish a close sixth in Group Three company at Newcastle on his return 10 days ago delighted Channon.

"We were all chuffed to bits with him," he said. "He's got to step up again, but he will strip fitter and I'm hoping he'll be spot-on for Saturday. He may have been off to stud but that doesn't mean he's trained any differently. He's back to being a racehorse and we'll try to win races with him."

Turf account

* Chris McGrath's Nap

Maltease Ah (2.30 Pontefract)

This filly, not disgraced against a potentially top-class rival two starts ago, may have scope for improvement.

* Next best

Dark Promise (4.00 Pontefract)

Continued the upward mobility she had shown on the all-weather in her first turf run this term and looks capable of a successful step out of handicap company.

* One to watch

Dimension (James Fanshawe) was stopped more than once in his run when sixth in the seven-furlong handicap at Sandown on Saturday.

* Where the money's going

Pekan Star is 5-1 favourite from 6s with Ladbrokes for the John Smith's Cup at York on Saturday.