The racing tradition continues in Shinde's family. His second son, Vinod, is now a jockey
It was 17 years ago that Vasant Shinde, the legendary jockey, had hung his riding boots and whip. But when he talks about racing and horses, his eyes still light up.
“Horses are God's gift to mankind. They may not talk to you but they understand exactly what you need from them,” says Shinde who dominated the racing scene in the country in his prime.
Shinde, now past 60 years, leads a retired life with his family in a quaint little place off Nandidurga Road in Benson Town.
His early days, he says, were nothing but a struggle. “I grew up riding my father's horses in Matheran. We made a living taking tourists on pleasure rides,” he says.
After a few odd jobs, Shinde tried his luck as a rider in the Pune Gymkhana races. In the very first year, he won five races and also bagged the Best Jockey Award there. Noticing his skills and style, a gentleman called Captain Soli advised him to become a professional jockey and told him to join the Jockey Apprentice School at the Pune Race Club.
Shinde completed the course and he won his riding spurs in six months. Later, at the Bombay races, he tasted his maiden success on ‘Royal Touch'. “My career took off from that moment and I rode for several top trainers and owners, including M.A.M. Ramaswamy and Rashid Byramji,” says the champion jockey.
He logged 1,882 wins in his long career and won 114 classics before he quit the sport in 1994 as his failing health was compounded by a knee surgery.
Shinde rates ‘Squanderer' as the top horse that he ever rode. “The colt was worth Rs. 60,000 but fetched the owners Rs. 30 lakh in stake money.” Shinde had international exposure in 1978 when he won two races in Hong Kong on ‘Small Parcel' and ‘Crown Jubilee'.
Among his contemporaries, Shinde picks Aslam Khader as the best jockey. “He had style and grace in his weight class (47-52kg). He was just unbeatable,” says Shinde.
Racing has undergone a sea change in recent times. “Earlier, we had one or two meetings a week. Now it is there all year round. But though racing days are more, the quality is not the same. We also don't have good blood stock: where do you find horses like Squanderer or Comanche now?” says Shinde. He points out that the understanding and rapport between jockey, trainer and owner, was better during his era.
The racing tradition continues in Shinde's family. His second son, Vinod, is now a jockey.
“I advise him when he asks for it and he is doing well for himself,” says Shinde.
Though he had a bypass surgery recently, Shinde hasn't lost the zest for life and is quite content watching the world go by from the comfort of his home.