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TRAINER S.M. SHAH
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Tuesday 10 Oct 2017
Trainer S M Shah

To appreciate what the late trainer S.M. Shah was, one has to have a long memory. His best days were in an era when the Indian Turf Invitation Cup was a newly instituted race; when there was no winter racing in Bangalore or Hyderabad and trainers travelled to other centres as infrequently as they went abroad.

Majeed Shah commenced training during the monsoon of 1954 when he took some horses from the string of his brother-in-law, the great Baba Khan, to Secunderabad. On 1 September 1954, he led in his first winner, a horse called Blue Diamond who was owned by the Zamindar of Chikkavaram and Mr. M.A. Chidambaram. Ridden by Jagdish, Blue Diamond won at odds of 20/1. Blue Diamond was one of the nine winners that he sent out during that season. Shah continued his bit parts, taking horses to Secunderabad, Pune and Bangalore. In the mid-1950s, Baba Khan was an established trainer at Mumbai, winning the Championship in 1955-56 and 1956-57. In 1957-58, he lost the Championship at Mahalakshmi to Maj. V.M. Lad by just two wins and he decided to return to Chennai were he had started before moving to Mumbai. Thus, he handed over his string to S.M. Shah from the Mumbai Winter Season of 1958-59.

Shah's early years at Mumbai were respectable but not spectacular, sending out about 15 winners on an average. His talent, however, was unmistakable as was showcased by Ali Baba who won the Eclipse Stakes of India in 1962 & 1963. A.L.J. Talib was the dominant trainer at Mumbai in those days; Maj. V.M. Lad sent out a steady stream of Classic winners for Gwalior; Dady Adenwalla, a comparative newcomer, had already led-in two Indian Derby winners while Kheem Singh, after a glorious riding career had just switched to training and almost immediately captured a Trainers' Title. There were other stalwarts like Aziz Mahmoud and Dara Pandole around. It was a very competitive and tough environment to break into but that is exactly what Shah did.

A trainer needs a good owner to help him on his way and in the industrialist Mr. M.D. Mehta Shah found one. Paigham, Felicity and Military Code were among the early winners that Shah trained for Mr. Mehta in most of whose horses Miss L.T. Tejwaney (later Mrs. Laxmi P. Lala) had a share. The first Classic that Shah won was the Indian Oaks with Remembrance. That filly, earlier called Floral Charm, was owned by the Maharaja of Kashmir but was bequeathed in his will to his good friend Maharaj Narpat Singh. Maharaj Narpat Singh changed her name to the more apt Remembrance and she won the Indian Oaks, Shamu Chavan getting her home by a head from Rocklie. Two years later, Shah won the Indian St. Leger with Blue Haven  for his principal patron Mr. M.D. Mehta. Shah ended the 1964-65 season as the Champion Trainer, the first of his four such honours that decade.

Blue Haven's Classic spurred Mr. Mehta into investing even more lavishly on youngstock. At about this time, comedian Mehmood, then riding the crest of a tremendous popularity wave, also came into the game and entrusted his horses to Shah. There is a considerable time interval between the purchase of youngstock and their running the Classics. In this interregnum, Shah came up with his first Indian Derby winner Nijinsky. Nijinsky was owned by Mrs. Mary H. Wadia. That name won't ring a bell but say "Fearless Nadia" a host of pre-Independence people will immediately make the connection. Mrs. Mary Wadia was none other than "Fearless Nadia", the star of several box office hits like "Hunterwali", "Miss Frontier Mail", "Diamond Queen" and "Jungle Princess", to mention just a few. Those were not the days of the internet and social media. On the evening of a race day, the day's printed results were sold by news vendors who ran along streets shouting "Reeeesal". That evening the cry was "Hunterwali ka ghoda jeeta".

Our Select won the Indian Triple Crown in 1968-69; Bright Hanovar won the same races in 1970-71 but couldn't claim the Triple Crown because he lost the Indian 2000 Guineas on an objection; Noor-E-Shiraz won the 1971 Indian 2000 Guineas beating Prince Khartoum and Storm but then went wrong as Prince Khartoum and Storm ran 1-2 in both the Indian Derby as well as the Invitation Cup and Bade Miya won the Indian 2000 Guineas in 1972. All these horses ran in the colours of Mr. M.D. Mehta. For Mehmood, Shah won the Indian 2000 Guineas with Hard Held and the Indian Oaks with the one-eyed filly Rock Witness. Shah was the Champion trainer at Mahalakshmi in 1967-68, 1968-69 and 1969-70. During these glory years, Jagdish and George McGrath were his main riders.

How well Shah dominated the racing scene at Mahalakshmi in the '60s is evident from the fact that he won four Championships -- more than any other trainer -- during that decade. Apart from his Classic wins, Shah enjoyed a tremendous success in Eclipse Stakes of India, sending out seven winners of the race including five in the '60s. His Eclipse winners were -- Ali Baba (1962 and 1963), Rishikesh (1965), Bakhtawar (1967 and 1968), Hard Held (1972) and Bright Hanovar (1973).

In 1973, Mr. M.D. Mehta passed away. Shah's fortunes took a downward turn after his demise. He sill sent out more than a respectable figure of winners at Mumbai but no Championships came his way as a new star in the shape of Rashid Byramji loomed large. Byramji did not have Pune in his scheme of things and Shah turned his attention to that centre and was the Champion Trainer in 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1976. The 1977-78 Mumbai Winter Season was his last as a trainer in Western India and he saddled 21 winners at Mumbai during it. He then packed his bags and moved to Bangalore. When he left Western India, he had saddled winners of 14 Indian Classics. Only Talib and Maj. Lad had  a greater tally of Indian Classic wins at that point of time.

He trained at Bangalore for another 20 years more but had only one Classic winner in Reshmi Art who won the Mysore 1000 Guineas. Apart from Bangalore, he also visited Mysore but he mostly kept away from the other centres. He had some good years and some average ones. However, his Bangalore stint enabled him to take his career tally past the 1000 mark.  The last winner he trained was Nayyab on 13 February 1998. Nayyab ran in the colours of his son Mr. Kaleem Shah. Mr. Kaleem Shah has since made a name for himself with his entrepreneurial skills -- he is the founder of Calnet -- and has owned several Gr.1 horses in the U.S.A, while another son, Mr. Saleem Shah, owns Star Nijinsky in India.

A trainer is often known by the best horse he trained. In Shah's case, that horse is not  his first Indian Derby winner (Nijinsky), nor his Indian Triple Crown winner (Our Select) nor his Indian Derby-Invitation Cup winner (Bright Hanovar). It is a horse who never won a Classic -- Bakhtawar. Bakhtawar, who was owned by Mr. M.D. Mehta, was unfortunate to be born in the same year as Red Rufus and had to play second fiddle to that horse in all the three Indian Classics -- actually, he was third in the Indian 2000 Guineas -- and the Invitation Cup. Bakhtawar was a game, gutsy and durable gelding who came into his own as the days and years rolled by winning 23 races. He won the C.N. Wadia Gold Cup thrice, Eclipse Stakes of India twice, Idar Gold Cup, twice, Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia Trophy twice, A.C. Ardeshir Trophy, Byculla Club Cup, Maharaja Sir Harisinghji Trophy and Eve Champion Cup. Bakhtawar was a son of Flower Dust whose fillies were generally better. Flower Dust also tended to produce light-boned brittle horses but Bakhtawar was tough as nails and according to his trainer he never even put the iodine paint on him. One of the most heartening sights was of the crowd standing up and cheering when he crossed the winning post at Mahalakshmi when winning his third C.N. Wadia Gold Cup as a nine year-old. Some present day racegoers will decry that as the avarice of the owners and suggest that he should have been retired. The fact is that Bakhtawar was fit and happy and loved nothing more than running. He was later gifted to the Amateur Riding School; a gentle horse, he was the perfect ride for small children.

S.M. Shah was an old fashioned trainer who believed in good feeding and plenty of exercise. While he excelled with Classic horses going over a distance of ground, he could be just as effective with more mercurial sorts as his handling of Hard Held and Beandaz proved. No one has probably seen more Indian Derby paddock parades with a keener eye than Dr. F.F. Wadia of Yeravada Stud. He considers Bright Hanovar as the fittest and most immaculately turned-out horse in a Derby parade. That's an ultimate compliment to a trainer.

PAST THE POST

S.M. Shah was about 90 years old when he passed away. No one knows when exactly when he was born but his younger brother S.S. Shah reckons that he was about 10-12 years older than him. Like S.M. Shah, his younger brother also trained three winners of the Indian Derby -- Mansoor, Hot Stepper and Antonios -- and one -- Amorous Knight -- of the Invitation Cup.

The abiding memory of S.S. Shah is of the time when Mansoor was being readied for the Indian Derby. Khade was to ride him and the trainer left it to the jockey to plan the final work-out. Khade wanted a mile and a quarter gallop with someone joining him for the last 1200 m. That someone was Ruby Rosa, Mansoor's older half-sister. Just before the gallop took place, S.S. Shah asked his elder brother to watch and time it. Mansoor worked brilliantly. When S.S. Shah asked him how his horse had gone, the elder brother replied, "Better than my horse. You have got me worried". So it proved as Mansoor won the Derby from S.M. Shah's Bade Miya, the only instance of two brothers saddling 1-2 in an Indian Derby. For S.S. Shah, Majeed Shah was not only an elder brother but a father figure and a professional mentor. "But," says S.S. Shah, "I will miss him most as a dependable friend." R.I.P.