Towards the end of his tutelage under mentor Michael Clements, Mahadi Taib thought he had got the training business down pat.
Until rising star Majesticardo tragically broke down in full view of the grandstand in the inaugural Group 3 Singapore Three-Year-Old Sprint in January 2007.
An exciting record of three from four by combined margins in excess of 21 lengths was cruelly cut short when Clements’ galloper snapped his off-fore leg 100m from the line and was euthanised.
The whole team were shattered, and so was Mahadi. He had been part of the whole journey where Clements had wrapped the boom three-year-old in cotton wool because of a mystery ailment.
It was also a sobering moment. Besides the cliche that horse racing is a game of ups and downs, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears put into such speedy but fragile animals, there is still a fine line between success and failure.
Mahadi has bottled that thought among many others picked up in his 34 years of hard work, but also a labour of love with horses.
As the newly licensed trainer saddles his first runner, Qaraat, this Sunday, he knows the steep learning curve has only just begun. But he had to start somewhere.
“It’s a moment I’ve long been waiting for. I’m excited,” he said.
“But it’s only a milestone. Once that race is over, I’ll just move forward as there is a long road ahead.
“You never stop learning. But Michael Clements was the best teacher, especially his attention to detail. I spent 11 years there, from syce to assistant trainer.
“I worked with so many good horses there, but one who marked me was Majesticardo.
“He was a good sprinter. But, after a gallop, he always felt some pain. Nobody knew what the problem was. X-rays showed nothing.
“Somehow Michael managed to keep him running. He used vet advice, but also his own know-how.
“He would check the track every morning. If it was not well balanced or, if it rained the night before, he would not work the horse.
“We were all in shock when he broke down, but this is horse racing. Even when you give 100 per cent of yourself to a horse, these things can happen.
“We must take it easy, move forward. But I still noted down what I’ve learned from Majesticardo.”
The spills tend to outnumber the thrills in racing, as he found out, be it with Clements, or other trainers like Buang Abu Bakar, Theo Kieser, David Hill and John O’Hara.
But winning races is what drives trainers like Mahadi, 50, to set their buzzer at 4am every day.
Usually newbies are coy about a fairytale start. But Mahadi was refreshingly upfront about Qaraat’s chances in Race 3, the What’s New 2019 Stakes, a $30,000 Class 5 Division 1 race over 1,200m.
“It’d be great if he wins, even if he’s not the same Super Fortune, who once ran in Class 1 company. I feel he has a chance,” he said.
“My track rider T. R. Barnabas told me he worked well last week and this week Tengku Rehaizat also said the horse felt great after his last gallop.”
Even if a dream debut is not in the script this Sunday, Mahadi still has another 22 horses to work with, including eight on the way from Jason Lim and four unraced still in Australia and New Zealand.
“The three-year-old by Shamus Award has been working well. He seems to be the more forward of the four unraced,” he said.
“Most of my horses were already here and aren’t champions. But they are fit as they have been in work with Jason Lim all along.
“Surpass Natural has been trialling well, but he pulled up sore at his last run. He’s picking up slowly.
“He’s not sound but I still feel he can run a race, maybe in two to three weeks’ time.”