A STORY OF DETERMINATION 

(@flemingtonvrc

16 April 2021

Saab Hasan was a horse-mad child who worked hard to make his passion his job.

Image: Saab Hasan was a horse-mad child who worked hard to make his passion his job.

BY CELIA PURDEY 

Choking back tears in an emotional interview on New Year’s Day Race Day this year, Saab Hasan described how he all has ever wanted to do was be a horse trainer, ever since he was a young boy living in the commission flats in Flemington. The win by Sirius Suspect in the Group 3 Standish Handicap at Headquarters was a thrill for the Flemington trainer, who has fought hard for his place in the famed mounting yard.

Born in Cyprus in 1971 during the war, Hasan migrated to Australia in 1976 at the age of four with his family. They settled into Melbourne and lived in Flemington, where a young Saab attended Debney Meadows Primary School. He struggled to speak English or even to understand what was going on in class.

“I was a very shy and quiet kid who kept to myself, and other than my sister I had no one to look after me. She developed tuberculosis and nearly passed away when she was seven years old and was very, very sick. My parents worked at Myer as cleaners and on weekends I would help Dad clean the Myer windows. We struggled financially but stuck together as a family and survived the hard times,” Hasan said.

The Hasan family migrated to Australia in 1976 to start a new life.

Image: The Hasan family migrated to Australia in 1976 to start a new life.

It was fate that deposited the family in Flemington, as Hasan, a horse-loving young boy, quickly realised that he was living in the “horse-heaven capital.”

"I started following the Melbourne Cup and memorised all the winners from 1861 onwards. It helped with my English, and studying the form guide was the best way to spell names and remember words. I started to go to the races with Dad and I just loved Flemington and Moonee Valley. Horses like Kingston Town and Manikato were racing about that time in 1979 and 1980, and what champions they would be.”

Quickly deciding that a life in racing was for him, Hasan began a “long and arduous journey” to work in the industry.

“I tried for a job down at Flemington when I was 14 but was told I was too young and to come back when I had more experience. I had to break in somehow, so I tried again the following year, but had the same result. Determined not to give up, I walked into the last stable on the corner block known as Flemington Lodge. It was the home of Mick Cerchi. His father was a legend with horses and Mick was a very astute horseman. He was out working horses and I snuck into the stables and started mucking out boxes. When he arrived, he thought I was robbing the joint! I explained that I was the next generation of trainers and needed to start working at stables if I was to make it. I virtually refused to leave so he took me on, taking a punt on a boy who knew nothing about horses but had love, passion and determination as well as a strong work ethic.”

Slowly, Hasan worked his way towards a trainers license, crediting the VRC’s past general manager, Terry Watson as well as stewards Des Gleeson, Terry Sharp and Leon Koch in helping him to obtain a license.

It has not been an easy road financially and physically, and at times, Hasan has found it “near impossible to survive.”

“With bad debtors and running it on love and not business acumen my business almost collapsed. Family life suffered and as a result my marriage ended. Then a police incident in 2017 when I was trying to get into my stable complex at Chicquita Lodge occurred. I had to clear my name, so I took legal action against the Victoria Police. I won that case hands down and was cleared of any wrongdoing but it took three years and almost sent me bankrupt.”

However, Hasan’s love for racing, the horses and for Flemington makes the hard times worth it. “Flemington is like no other place. It has history, it has views, and it has one of the best racetracks in the world. It’s a showpiece. It was an honour the day that I held my badge in my hands, and it still is today.”

Now having trained more than 100 winners, Hasan’s next goal is to reach 1000 and achieve a Group 1, particularly an Victoria Derby. Alongside Flemington, Hasan also has a training centre in the country at Tabilk near Avenel, where he has 20 horses in work. With 15 at Flemington, he divides his time between the two centres. “I live at Tabilk and love the country atmosphere, but I come to Flemington three times a week, so I think I have the best of both worlds."

Living in the countryside suits Hasan’s other love – the land. “If I didn’t become a trainer I would be a property developer,” he said. Perhaps he could take some tips from his fellow trainer and real estate guru Denis Pagan? “I barrack for North Melbourne and always admired Denis. When he obtained a license I thought it was fantastic for our industry and the club. Working alongside Denis and watching him train winners is rewarding. He is a smart man but more importantly, a champion human being.”

Like most trainers, asking Hasan to pick a favourite horse is like asking him to choose a favourite child. “When Shoreham won a Group 3 Easter Cup as an eight-year-old it was my most rewarding moment. Sirius Suspect is my star. He should’ve gone close in the Seppelt Wines Newmarket Handicap. He will come back and be hard to beat in races like the Aurie’s Star Handicap and the Bobby Lewis Quality. I also have a very nice Tivaci gelding, a Starspangledbanner colt and bought some handy yearlings this year, so look out in 15 months.”

Hasan and his partner Zoe also have their hands full on the home front, with a 16-month-old daughter, Amelia, keeping them busy. “She loves horses and loves going to races,” said Hasan. Maybe she will continue the Hasan name in the racing history books, like so many famous Flemington families before them?