Exactly six months after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, forty-nine-year old trainer Vinayak Gaekwad breathed his last early on Wednesday morning at a private city hospital. He was admitted after his condition deteriorated at home two days ago.
Everything was fine with the chirpy professional till December last year, or so it seemed, when a sudden bout of splitting headaches disrupted his life. A CT Scan report revealed that he had a brain tumour for which he underwent surgery in January.
|Much of the horse-racing fraternity turned up for Gaekwad’s funeral
on Wednesday, where his son (in blue) and wife (in white) performed
last rites in tears
But that didn’t help and a heart-breaking prognosis by the doctors forced his family to shift him to Pune. Vinayak had probably seen the Mahalaxmi Race Course for the last time and had to leave his Mumbai racing campaign abruptly; forever as it turned out to be.
Earlier, in late 2010, it was a gloomy morning with dark clouds hovering ominously in the sky when Vinayak told a companion, “Pasha, aur do-teen saal kaam karenge, bas phir racing chodh denge” (We will work for another two-three years then call it a day in racing), even as he gazed through his binoculars at some of his horses going through their paces.
Ex-jockey I Pasha barely manages to control his emotions when recalling these words after the funeral of his friend and colleagues for over two decades. Pasha was one of the large turnout of the horse-racing fraternity that turned out to bid farewell to Vinayak at the Dhobi Ghat Crematorium at Shanker Seth Road on Wednesday.
A professional horse-trainer, tasting victory or defeat on the race-track was incidental for Vinayak, who believed life was to be lived to the fullest — which he did in his own inimitable style.
1963 - 2012
At other times, Vinayak’s fun-loving character was manifested when he humorously took a dig at his colleagues, never minding if he got a taste of his own medicine.
Vinayak’s professional life had its share of ups and downs after it began in the mid ’80s.
After failing to acquire a string of equines that would make his career meaningful, he left for Singapore to do a three-year stint with the late Ivan Allan, who shifted base to the Hong Kong Jockey Club shortly after Vinayak returned home.
Immediately on his return, Vinayak joined horse-breeder and owner Khushroo Dhunjibhoy’s camp, in what was to become the most happening phase of his life till they parted ways in October 2010. “I owe my success to Dhunjibhoy as he entrusted me with good horses.
He is a wonderful, generous and a very kind person. I wish I could’ve won another Pune Derby for him with Berlusconi; it would’ve been a perfect parting gift,” Vinayak had said then. The wily trainer went on to claim the Pune Derby next year with Hills and Stars for his new owner, Rakesh Kumar Wadhawan.
Along the way, Vinayak found a beautiful life partner for himself in Ayesha Captain, probably the first lady professional jockey in Western India and also the petite daughter of RWITC’s most famous stipe, Soli Captain.
Pasha and his colleague, jockey T Mahesh, were the Vinayak’s most trusted lieutenants. “He never behaved like a boss, nor did he make us feel like employees. We were always family and he loved to share our joys and pains. His happy-go-lucky attitude was infectious. His most remarkable trait was his implicit faith in God,” say Pasha and Mahesh in unison.
“When Indictment won the Indian Derby and later the Triple Crown, it was the time I saw him happiest. That day it seemed he had achieved the goal he had set for himself as a youngster. I met him just two months ago — he did not for a moment give the impression that he knew his end was near,” Pasha said.
“The well-being and security of his family was uppermost on Vinayak’s mind. Once he was established as a successful trainer, he made sure close family members did not suffer on any front. He wanted to be a shield for them,” adds Mahesh.
In a text message to Mirror, Dhunjibhoy said, “A sad and premature loss for Indian racing. Vinayak was loyal, honest and a perfect gentleman to his last day. I shall sorely miss him. My deepest sympathies go out to Ayesha, Aditya and the entire family.”