He arrived in the UK with barely any English and little experience with horses, but now Pakistan’s Imran Shawani is the groom for a superstar race horse bidding to make history.
Shawani is head groom and work rider for Enable at the Newmarket stables of champion trainer John Gosden, whom he credits for teaching him everything he knows — including the basics of how to ride a horse.
“The boss [Gosden], he’s a gentleman, he’s always looked after me very well. He was paying me full wages, and at that time I was absolutely useless. That’s the truth,” Shawani told CNN over the phone after finishing a day’s work at Gosden’s Clarehaven stables.
‘Absolutely sh*t rider’
Imran joined Gosden’s team 14 years ago after an introduction from his brother Anwar, who had formerly worked for another trainer in England, Mick Channon.
Seeing Imran on a horse for the first time, Gosden was not impressed.
“The boss said, ‘Oh my God, you need to learn a lot,'” he said.
“He used to teach me riding for one hour every day after third lot on the pony. He taught me how to hold to the reins, how to go up and down when the horse trots and how to stand on a horse when it canters.
“I was always doing some mistakes but the boss always ignore, ignore, ignore and he gave me lots of chance.
“I was an absolutely s**t rider.”
It was a steep learning curve, given he only knew a couple of people in the country and his English was rudimentary at best.
Once, Gosden enquired if a horse in Shawani’s charge had been doing any coughing.
“I’d been told to always use sorry, thank you or excuse me. So I just said, ‘Thank you,'” he laughed.
Gosden had to demonstrate a cough — and so Shawani’s learning continued.
Another brother Afzal rode Enable’s father Nathaniel, but when Imran chose her to look after early in her three-year-old season, little did he know she would go on to become a wonder horse.
Since then she has notched 12 straight wins including two Arcs, the Epsom Oaks, the Irish Oaks, two King George VI’s at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, all in tandem with veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.
Now, Shawani starts work at 5:30 a.m. every day to prepare Enable before riding out with her in training.
“She’s beautiful, she knows she’s a superstar,” he added. “If you take her on Warren Hill [Newmarket’s gallops], she wants to show off she’s Enable.
“I’m so proud because whenever she goes out for a canter everybody wants to see her and touch her.
“She’s so special for everyone and if you give her a polo or a carrot she’s going to be your friend.
“I think I am the luckiest person in the yard and in Newmarket.”
Of the upcoming Paris showdown, Shawani added: “She’s a tough horse, she’s the best and she’s in very good form.
“If she wins she’s going to make history and be a world champion horse. Imagine what I’ll feel. I’ll leave it to you.”