Leaving behind a rich legacy

Trainer Rashid Byramji bid adieu to racing following a stellar career

Leaving behind a rich legacy

Most sporting disciplines in the country has at least one individual who evokes awe despite many legends having graced it. Cricket has Sachin Tendulkar, badminton Prakash Padukone, hockey Dhyan Chand, football P K Banerjee, chess Viswanathan Anand, tennis Ramanathan Krishnan etc to name a few. In the sport of horse racing, Rashid R Byramji stands out like a colossus.

The 83-year-old, who bid adieu last month to a sport that formed an integral part of his life for a little over six decades, is without doubt the best trainer the nation has seen. Revered by one and all not just in the country but even at some major racing centres in the world, Byramji’s statistics are mind-boggling that could stand the test of time. He has notched nearly 3200 victories that include 230 classics, 10 Indian Derbies and 12 Invitation Cups (three hat-tricks), a yardstick that every aspiring trainer finds extremely daunting.

Byramji fell in love with horses when he was a kid, watching his grandfather Byramji Rustomji train the majestic animals. When his father Rustomji Byramji took over the mantle, it was only natural the young Byramji carried forward the family legacy. On May 1, 1955, he got his trainers’ licence in Pune and started with four horses given by Cyrus Poonawalla. Initially, Byramji had to work under instructions from seniors as he was a novice to the field but after impressing Poonawalla with his enthusiasm and ideas, he got the chance to carve his own path.

Within six months, he recorded his first win with Lingamala which Byramji still considers as one of the most important moments in his life. “That win started everything for me. For the first few months, I was struggling to create an identity for myself. I wanted to be my own man. Cyrusji gave me that freedom very early on in my life. I went on to win four times with Lingamala. That horse gave me the belief any starter would want.”

That initial success then immediately gave way to a period of lull where Byramji started questioning himself on whether he was cut for the sport. Despite trying hard, he couldn’t boot home a winner in a rough two-month spell. Dispirited, he approached owner SA Irani and asked to be relived of his duties if he couldn't bring home more success. Irani told a young Byramji not to get worked-up about the end result but just focus on the process. Byramji, buoyed by the words of encouragement, then rediscovered himself to lay the foundation for a stellar career.

“I was worried after suffering one loss after another. I was worried because I was just bringing losses to the owners. I had no choice but to approach Irani. He then asked me what’s the percentage that I and the jockey get if the horse won. I told him 10 percent each. Irani replied saying if he has 80 percent ownership in a success, then he has a similar responsibility in defeats too. It was very moving. I won nine races on the trot after that.”

Byramji, renowned for breeding champion horses out of nothing, says that sort of owner-trainer relationship is seldom found nowadays in a sport where the margin for success and failure is just a fraction of a second. “Those days, many owners reposed complete faith in you. They gave you total freedom. Even if you went through a period of lull, they understood you and stood by you. Not too many questions were asked. They backed you to the hilt. Nowadays, it’s all about success. I guess, that's the way the world has turned into now — ultra competitive.”

Byramji hailed his wife Dolly Nazir — the swimmer who competed in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics —  as the lucky charm of his life. “I got married in 1965 and had to move to Bangalore. It wasn't easy initially but things moved at a rapid pace for me here. I won my first Derby at Bangalore. I then went on to win the Indian Derby and thereafter the Invitation Cup. Success just kept coming. I owe plenty of it to Dolly without whom all this wound’t have been possible. She was my greatest strength.”

To do something for six decades and be a champion at that for most part is an incredible achievement. At some stage, complacency or boredom is bound to creep in. But Byramji, one of the most affable persons in the paddock, just kept going until he decided to call time. “I just loved the sport. It was my passion. I loved horses and spending time with them. What made it easier was my family — my wife, my son and now my daughter-in-law — also took an active part in it. It became the bond that held us together. A day away from the stables was incomplete for me.”

Byramji, who loved giving his jockeys a free hand, said if not for advancing age and related health issues, he would have carried on further. “As you get older, things just start becoming difficult. You can't do the things you want to do. But I'm glad I was able to accomplish so many things in my life. Now it’s upto my son Darius (a leading trainer now) and his wife Parvati to take it forward. They are doing well and I’m confident they’ll do good.”

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