Dr. Rif'at Hussain has been known to leap before he looks.
The Sioux Falls, S.D., plastic surgeon was married last year to a woman he never had seen before. And his acquisition of a wife was as venturesome as his acquisition of a horse. A total neophyte, he had gone to Kentucky, visited a horse auction, surprised himself by buying a mare and then borrowed money to breed her.
Dr. Hussain was doubly rewarded for his venturesome spirit. The marriage, he said, has worked out fine, and the product of his trip to Kentucky, a colt named Shimatoree, is expected to run in the $150,000 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday.
A native of Pakistan who came to this country for his residency in plastic surgery, Hussain returned home a year ago for a family visit. While he was there, his father told him he would like his son to be married.
"I thought this was a joke," Hussain said. It wasn't. So he assented and his father arranged everything. "I had never met my wife until the marriage was official," Hussain said. "My father is very important to me, and I had a chance to fulfill his fantasy. How often do you have a chance to do that?"
More often than one might think, perhaps, for Hussain fulfilled a fantasy of his own this year. He had grown up listening to his grandfather tell stories of his own horsemanship; in the mid-'70s he had acquired an interest in thoroughbred racing and had begun to read and learn all he could about the breeding business.
He made a trip to a horse sale in Lexington to learn about the mechanics of these auctions, and while he was observing, a mare named Tudor Twist was led into the ring. Hussain liked her pedigree and conformation, and when the bidding for her lagged miserably, he found himself signaling the auctioneer. For $900 he was in the breeding business.
He was not going to pick the mate for Tudor Twist sight unseen, as he would do for himself. So he visited as many horse farms as he could, looking at stallions. "I wanted to breed her to Graustark," Hussain said, but Graustark's stud fee was $100,000. So he settled for a stallion named Marshua's Dancer, and borrowed $5,000 to pay for the stud fee.
After the son of Marshua's Dancer and Tudor Twist was born, Hussain brought him home to South Dakota and watched over him like a protective parent. "I groomed him, I walked him, I broke him, I played with him a lot," Hussain said. "I would stand for five or six hours outside the paddock and watch him run with the other babies. Nobody could stay with him. I galloped him on the dikes of the Big Sioux River. I galloped him in the fields, and pheasants would fly right under his nose but it wouldn't bother him. After my wife had been in Sioux Falls a week, I put her on Shimatoree, too."
Last March, Dr. and Mrs. Hussain had to say goodbye to their family pet, and shipped him to trainer Dick Dutrow in Maryland. If Hussain's assessment of the colt had been clouded by sentiment, Dutrow's wasn't, but he saw the same signs of precocity and brilliant speed.
After finishing second in his racing debut at Aqueduct, Shimatoree won three straight sprints in overpowering fashion, and was being talked about as a Kentucky Derby candidate. But questions remained about his stamina and his ability to control his speed, and in the one-mile Gotham Stakes he seemed to answer them negatively. Shimatoree sped the first three-quarters of a mile in an incredible 1:08 3/5, then collapsed and finished second to the undefeated Air Forbes Won.
On Saturday Shimatoree may get one more chance to show he can go a distance and to avenge this defeat, although Dutrow has been hedging about entering him in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial. Hussain has his doubts, too; he is realistic enough to know that his colt may be only a sprinter. But he also knows that wonderful and expected things can happen when a man is bold enough to take a risk.