By Peter Wharton
Football, harness racing and family – they are the three great loves of prominent Swan Hill personality Noel Watson.
Noel, who was born and raised in Numurkah, started playing football as a teenager with Wunghnu in the Picola District competition.
“At 17 I got my HSC, Wunghnu won the flag and I won the club’s best and fairest,” Noel said.
Actually, Noel got his introduction to harness racing while working and playing football in Bendigo in the late 1970’s.
“I introduced myself to Henry McDermott one day and soon after I started helping out at his stables on Sunday’s and after work,” Noel recalled.
“Henry was a great horseman, a thorough gentleman whom people used to gravitate to. His best horses at the time were the Inter Dominion heat and SA Pacing Cup winner Gosh, Quamby’s Pride and Shy Skipper.
“I used to drive Gosh in trackwork. That was a terrific thrill.”
While trotting was becoming a very enjoyable pastime for Noel, he was still plying his trade on the football field.
He later served as playing coach for Newbridge in the Loddon Valley Football League and won the League Medal in 1980.
“One of the boys I coached at Newbridge was Peter Lewis, whose family are well known in trotting circles today. Peter also won the League Medal,” Noel said.
After quitting football for several years, Watson pulled on the boots again at age 50 for Quambatook and Swan Hill.
“I played more than 100 games between the ages of 50 and 59. I have been calling the football on 3SH for 35 years,” Noel stated.
Back to harness racing.
The first good horse Watson was associated with was the Speed King mare Just Speedie. Originally trained by Noel and driven by Trevor Patching, Just Speedie won nine races in the Sunraysia district and, at one stage, won four on end.
“She was a Qbred horse, so I decided to pull up stakes and take her north for a tilt at the classics. I left her with Darrell Graham who I not previously met,” Noel said.
Just Speedie captured the QBred 4YO Mares Classic at Gold Coast and two other races at Albion Park in her northern sojourn.
“Darrell and his lovely wife Linda’s two daughters Brittany and Stephanie were only little toddlers when we first went up,” Noel said. “Brittany now presents on SKY and Stephanie is a trainer. She trains Artistic Saint who won last month and was driven by her sister Brittany.”
Torado Stone, a Tasmanian bred gelding, was another good performer for the Watson-Graham combination, winning the 1997 Redcliffe Cup and finishing runner-up in the Pot of Gold at Rocklea.
Down through the years Watson has bred and raced the winners of several hundred races, many of whom carry the ‘Saint’ moniker to mark his lifelong admiration of the Saint Kilda Football Club.
His horses all carry the Saint’s familiar red, black and white silks with a halo.
Noel said that Saint Flash was the best horse he’s ever bred and owned. The Grinfromeartoear gelding won 27 races with 43 placings from 176 starts for $285,368.
“He won the first Cup run on the new Swan Hill track. That was one of my biggest thrills in harness racing,” Noel said.
Saint Flash was the first of six winners thrown by the Safely Kept mare Torridon.
Her progeny have won 63 races and $570,575 in stakes so far.
Others from Torridon include Courageous Saint ($95,660), Saint Stormy ($88,693) and Torrid Saint ($48,360).
Noel is also breeding from Saint Theory, a daughter of Allamerican Ingot whom he bought as a weanling in Western Australia and floated across the Nullarbor.
“She had enormous speed but was hampered by tendon and throat problems,” Noel said.
Saint Theory ranks as the dam of talented youngster Treacherous Saint, a recent Bendigo winner in 1:57.3.
Other winners raced by Noel include Totally Dreamy, winner of the Boort and Ouyen Pacing Cups, Leighmont (22 wins and $101,340), Great Saint (15 wins and $78,716), Nickdal (15 wins and $76,581), Saint Lisa, Saint Babe, Artistic Saint and Riewoldt.
“I’ve got a couple of youngsters at present that will be named after two of the next wave of St Kilda stars,” Noel quipped.
Noel said that the time he spent studying the Tesio program had paid handsome dividends.
Married to Deb and the father of Jeremy and Alexandra, Watson resides on a 30 acre property just outside Swan Hill where his horses are bred and reared.
They are later educated by Steve and the late Jim Jenvey, broken in by Keith Linsell and trained by Glenn Douglas and Eric Anderson at Strathfieldsaye, just a stone’s throw from Henry McDermott’s old stables.
Mildura horsemen Greg and Shayne Cramp also prepared numerous winners for Watson.
The owner of a real estate business, Noel also dabbles into training gallopers.
“One of my team, Madam Manguy, won a Deniliquin Cup and finished a close third at Sandown,” he said.
Watson is a former president and life member and currently joint vice-president with Steve Jenvey of the Swan Hill Trotting Club.
“I love the horses and it’s all thanks to Henry McDermott. He had the right approach,” Noel stated.