HE turned out champion jockeys who are still the dominant riders in today's centralised environment. Among his talented graduates are: Rajpaul Rajkumar, Ranjit Kissoon, Ricky Jadoo, Brian Harding, Dale Whittaker, Emile Ramsammy and Haniff Emamalie.
During the 1970's and 80's the late Shaffick "Gigs" Mohammed was assistant tutor to English jockey Tommy Carter. And when Carter's stint came to an end, the reins were handed over to "Gigs" at the Marabella Apprentice Jockey School, which was a stone's throw from the Union Park racetrack. The young riders, whom he tutored would later prove to be outstanding jockeys.
"Gigs", as everyone in the racing circle knew him, died last week at Jamaica Hospital in New York, United States. He was considered a perfectionist, very high on discipline and this desire to get the best out of his youngsters on some occasions was met with subtle rebellion.
Former rider Alfredo Flores once said: "Gigs was hard on us. He had his favourites but he made jockeys out of us."
Some of them stated they did not like him because he would increase their workload by making them cut extra bundles of grass when they did not do what was required. This practice which they felt was unwarranted, evidently built in the young jockeys the strength they needed to deal with complex situations. Only then did they realise the value of Gigs' methods.
A former jockey himself, Gigs rode against some of the best riders such as Venice Richards, Chally Jones, and local stalwarts, Edmund De Freitas and Francis Hasranah. He learned his trade the hard way and was able to easily pass on his knowledge.
However, the Apprentice Jockey School in Marabella was closed on June 30, 1992 because of financial difficulties. The school was in the process of finding a home at Santa Rosa Park, Arima, when racing was centralised in February 1994, but it never did.
In 1992 with the school's closure, Gigs, having a family to support, left for the USA. He termed his stint with top USA trainer Allan Jerkins, and his son James as an "educational time."
"I had to educate my children and nobody was employing me when the school closed. I started to freelance at Calder racecourse, Florida for a while and then moved to New York with a lay-up farm, which Kenny Latchman (former trainer/jockey) was working along with my brother Amaralli Mohammmed," Gigs recalled some years ago.
In July 1993 he moved to Belmont Park, and worked his way up from hot walking to exercising horses. He became an assistant trainer to Allan Jerkins, and after four years, shifted tack to son James.
Then in February 2005, he was offered the Jockeys School job and returned to Trinidad.
"I had a good stint in USA. I met lots of good horsemen and women," he said. "Everything went well for me, it was a great experience."
Speaking about the qualities of the local jockeys he worked with, Gigs said: "I always felt Emile was a cut above all of them, even when Tommy Carter said Ranjit (Kissoon) were better and even the great (Eric) Durant felt Kissoon was better. Emile had aptitude, ability and the brain and the work attitude and he made it work for him."
He added: "My most satisfying moment was when the boys turned to be successful, winning the Derby and Midsummer Classic. Then people will come up and give you the kudos."
Gigs then went on to explain how Ramsammy's name was mentioned to Jerkins.
"I first introduced Emile's name to Mr Allan Jerkins, who was leaving to winter in California. He said on his return, 'if you ever saw a good jockey, and a perfect gentleman it is Emile Ramsammy.' That was the perfect moment of my life. I really felt good, just those words were my greatest thrill. It is like bringing up your own child," Gigs chuckled.
He also had fond memories of some of the great and not-so-great equine stars.
"Windy Hill is the best horse I have seen. Mentone is the greatest and most fabulous horse I have seen. The best creole I have seen is the great Royal Colours," he remembered.
"I will think Edgar Prado and Jerry Bailey are the best foreign riders I have seen, and locally, Ramsammy, Rajkumar, Jadoo, Whittaker, and Dan Maharaj was a very good rider as well as Vaughn Charles" he added.
Asked about the name 'Gigs,' Mohammed explained that he and his brother Amaralli "Gigolo" Mohammed got their nicknames because of a racehorse named Gigolo his father owned.
He said when he came to the track, they decided to call him Gigs since his brother was already known as Gigolo.
At the time of this interview in 2005, the 60-year-old veteran said: "The best horse I worked in Trinidad was Vienna Woods. In New York, Snake Mountain and Thomas Joe, who finished third in the 1998 Belmont Stakes to Victory Gallop, who along with (Kentucky Derby winner) Really Quiet are the best horses I exercised.
"It was a real thrill for me when Thomas Joe finished third" said Gigs, who was born where JTA Supermarket now stands.
The funeral service for the 67-year-old Gigs, who died last Tuesday from pneumonia will be held today at the Marabella Presbyterian Church from 2.00 p.m.