The fastest thoroughbred horse in the world today is a 3-year-old colt known as Shimmy. He eats carrots, apples, chocolate and Life Savers and he hates to go into his stall. So much for his idiosyncrasies. Until he won the $55,000 Bay Shore at Aqueduct on March 21, his owner, Dr. Rif' At Hussain, hadn't seen him run. Hussain, a 38-year-old native of Pakistan, lives in Sioux Falls, S. Dak., and it's difficult for him to get away. Hussain, you see, is a busy plastic surgeon. He's the only plastic surgeon in Sioux Falls. In fact, he's the only plastic surgeon in the entire state.
"I call my horse Shimmy," Hussain said last week in New York, "but his name is Shimatoree. He is named after a Cheyenne Indian chief who was so brave that he was known as Ironhearted. The chiefs name was actually Chimatoree, but I changed the C to an S because it sounded better. I felt that I should see my colt run in the Bay Shore to realize my dream of him. Should I be remembered for nothing else in life, I will be remembered for Shimmy."
In the seven-furlong Bay Shore, Shimmy was considered such a cinch that of the $311,522 bet to show, $291,469 went on Shimmy. The bettors were perceptive, if circumspect. Shimmy, an even-money favorite, broke quickly and held a six-length lead by the top of the stretch. "I wanted him to get tired," said Trainer Dick Dutrow, "and he did." Shimatoree won by 4¾ lengths over Big Brave Rock, a horse that, unlike Shimmy, isn't nominated to the Kentucky Derby.
Shimatoree, of course, is only one of 388 horses nominated to the Derby. At this point he looks to be little more than a speedball, a horse that can run short distances swiftly. His victory in the Bay Shore was his third in only four starts, but his bloodlines and running style indicate that he might not be capable of running 1¼ miles, the Derby distance.
Six years ago, however, there was another Bay Shore winner that experts thought would be incapable of carrying his speed over a distance. His name was Bold Forbes, and he was trained not only to run quickly but also to run "long," as racetrackers say. Bold Forbes won the Derby by a length, and later took the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes by a neck. The jockey on Shimatoree last week was Angel Cordero Jr., who also rode Bold Forbes in his Triple Crown races.
For Hussain, Shimatoree is a running profit center. In effect, the colt cost Hussain $5,900. He already has turned down $1.5 million for a half interest in Shimmy, and the Bay Shore victory probably added another half-million to his value. "I am an easy person to reach by phone," Hussain says, "and people keep calling me about selling my horse. Presently I am not interested, but I am not a deaf man."
Hussain is, in fact, a very bright man who cares deeply for his horse. "I got Shimmy in what some horsemen might think is a strange way," he says, "though to me it was not all that strange. In the winter of 1978 I went to Kentucky. The weather was fierce. I woke up one morning and there were eight inches of snow on the ground. The reason I was in Kentucky was that I had followed horses for a while and I wanted to learn about auctions. I had no intention of buying a horse, so I was carrying very little money. Then I saw the horse I wanted in the sales catalogue at Keeneland. It was a mare named Tudor Twist that, according to the catalogue, was in foal to Crewman. But when I got to the sale they announced that Tudor Twist was barren."
That wouldn't have come as much of a surprise to a more experienced horseman. Of the first seven times that Tudor Twist had been bred, she turned out barren four times. Furthermore, her three living foals could best be described as circles with the rims removed. One never got to the races, another ran three times without winning and the third ran through six years and 78 starts while earning a grand total of $17,429—not enough to pay feed bills.
Hussain bought the barren Tudor Twist for $900 on Jan. 10, 1978. That same day 127 broodmares were sold at Keeneland, at an average price of $12,259.
"I liked Tudor Twist," Hussain says, "because if you examined her bloodlines you could find Tudor Minstrel, a winner of classic races in Europe. But when I got Tudor Twist, there were two things I didn't have: a stallion to breed her to, and money. I looked at several stallions as possible mates, but I couldn't afford them. One of the ones I liked was Marshua's Dancer, and his stud fee was $5,000, which I didn't have."
Hussain came to the U.S. from Pakistan on Feb. 27, 1967 to do his residency in plastic surgery at Maumee Valley Hospital in Toledo. He had no money then either. "My flight," he says, "was supposed to land in Toledo. But the Toledo airport was closed because of a snowstorm, so I ended up in Fort Wayne. I had only $23 in my pocket and no overcoat on my back. I was an exchange visitor to this country and a dreamer. Money had never been important to me. Work was important to me, finding a place to put my life. Eventually I got to Toledo and I had $3. But I wasn't worried. I knew that I could work things out. And I did."
But it took some doing. Hussain got his high school diploma from the University of Peshawar at 16, and then graduated from Khyber Medical College (part of the University of Peshawar) at 23. "I eventually became a plastic surgeon at the University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y.," he says, "but I moved out to South Dakota not only to start my own business but to find a place where there were horses and the tranquillity that they could bring. I found a marvelous man there at the First Sioux Falls Bank, named Bob Baker. He loaned me money to set up my practice. Truthfully, when I bought Tudor Twist for $900, I only had $500 with me and no credit line with the sales company that auctioned the horse. But the bank helped me out, so that I not only bought Tudor Twist but was able to have the mare bred to Marshua's Dancer for $5,000."
After Tudor Twist dropped her foal, on April 7, 1979, Hussain took the colt to a boarding stable just outside Sioux Falls. There he broke the horse, walked the horse, fed the horse, vetted the horse, galloped the horse and, at the same time, paid the feed bills by doing nose jobs. He has since acquired 12 more horses, including Epinephrine, a 2-year-old half-sister of Shimatoree, whose name, says Hussain, "describes her very well." Epinephrine is another word for adrenaline. In 1981 Hussain got married. By mail. It was an arranged marriage. "I had never met my wife, Neelofur, before," he says, "but that is the way things are often done in my country. She didn't know anything about either horses or South Dakota, but she wanted to learn to ride. At the end of her first week of riding a pony, I put her up on Shimmy. Maybe the rest will be history."
In a way, it already is. Shimatoree made his first start early last December in a six-furlong race at Aqueduct. He ran second, six lengths behind a good horse named Star Gallant, a colt who was undefeated as a 2-year-old and who recently won the Fountain of Youth at Gulf-stream. Nine days later, Shimatoree made his second start, at Laurel, and won by eight lengths. This year he made his first start as a 3-year-old in the $54,700 six-furlong Swift Stakes at Aqueduct on March 6 and beat a field of four, winning by 11 lengths in the brilliant time of 1:09[2/5].
Certainly much of the credit for Shimmy's spectacular showing must go to Dutrow, his trainer, a well-known conditioner who makes his base in Maryland and who regularly places one, two or three in the national standings.
"I found Mr. Dutrow in the Lexington airport while waiting for a plane," says Hussain. "I had never met a professional horse trainer before and I said to him, 'Someday my horse might turn out to be a good horse.' Mr. Dutrow said, 'If he does, give me a call.' I did." Dutrow was enthusiastic about Shimmy from the start, and in 1981 purchased a half interest in him.
In the winner's circle following the Bay Shore, Dutrow announced that Shimatoree's next start would be in the Gotham on April 3, when he should meet stronger opposition. "Shimmy reminds me a lot of Bold Forbes," Cordero says. "Like Bold Forbes, he's aggressive and is very fast. He'll go farther."
Unfortunately, Cordero is committed to ride another horse at Oaklawn Park on that date and will miss the Gotham. This doesn't distress Hussain, who says, "Bill Shoemaker will ride Shimmy in the Gotham and, if he likes the horse, will take him all the way through the Kentucky Derby."
Normally, Swift winners are quite forgettable because all the race usually proves is that a quick young horse can run six furlongs quickly. But the Bay Shore is another matter. Its seven-furlong distance sets up a 3-year-old for the one-mile Gotham and the 1‚⅛-mile Wood Memorial, perhaps the best of the prep races before the Derby.
The next few weeks will be important ones for this Kentucky-South Dakota-Pakistani wonder. While Shimmy is indeed quick, it's difficult to assess how far he can run. But if you can't catch him, you can't beat him.