It’s a miserable windswept rainy Tuesday afternoon in 1987 at the Richmond Race Club harness track in Sydney.
A race is about to start & Newbridge Boy driven by the 17 year old kid from Redfern Darren Brown is raring to go with his ears pricked. Newbridge Boy is a long shot to win, its a strong field with most of the other runners more fancied.
The Atlantic Star has the legend John E Binskin at the helm & Sunlit Path, the odds on favourite has the lady Leanne Beynon in the sulky.
This isn’t the group one Inter Dominion Final or the Miracle Mile, it’s the Intermediate Handicap at a mid week meeting but the legend, the lady & the kid from Redfern are about to go to battle on the track. This is a special moment in sport.
The first harness race in this country was held in Parramatta in 1810 & was won by a horse named Miss Kitty. I’m going to tell you a story about a harness race win that took place 177 years later. It isn’t a famous victory, there’s no record breaking margin or notoriety other than for the people involved. It is however an important milestone in the life of one man, a man who will forever remember the day he took on a challenge & won. That man is Darren Brown.
Darren Brown steered Newbridge Boy to victory by 10 metres in a time of 2 minutes 43.4 seconds at odds of 33 to 1 in the Intermediate Handicap from a standing start over 2020 metres. Odds on favourite Sunlit Path driven by Leanne Beynon was 2nd & The Atlantic Star driven by the late John Binskin was 3rd. Newbridge Boy was owned by W. Stolzenbach.
So Darren drove a winner at big odds but there’s a few of reasons why this should never have happened. Here’s a summary-
- Newbridge Boy hadn’t won a race since 1985 & in its last start at Gosford it ran 10th beaten by 20 metres.
- The majority of the 9 other horses in the race were better performed than Newbridge Boy & 2 of those were driven by proven harness racing stars. Sunlit Path was the odds on favourite & was handled by Leanne Beynon who was Sydneys’ leading female trainer/driver of the 80s & 90s. The Atlantic Star was driven by group 1 winner John Binskin, a man regarded as one of the finest horseman ever in the sport. To this day there is a Binskin Lounge at Bankstown Paceway. Its named in honour of the Binskin family racing trio of Johns’ father Jack & his son Darren. All of whom are harness racing stars.
- Darren Brown was a kid with limited experience so his presence in the race was assumed to be ‘making up the numbers’.
- Roughies don’t usually lead all the way, they sometimes go to an early lead but more often than not capitulate & stop like they’ve been shot with a gun way before the winning post.
There is however more than one reason why Darren did win-
- He grew up in Great Buckinghham Street Redfern where they breed them tough. Darrens’ will to win would see him play over 200 first grade rugby league games in both Australia & England.
- Darren was a naturally gifted driver, Darren Binskin said “Darren (Brown) from the get go sat in the gig well & looked like a harness driver. He also took his opportunity.”
- The horse liked the wet & had previously won a race at Richmond.
- A horse that was challenging for the lead James Dee broke & galloped handing Newbridge Boy an easy quarter in the lead as they heard the bell for the last lap.
THE STORY OF THE RACE & THE MAIN PARTICIPANTS
Les Brown & Darren Brown
Les Brown was born in Redfern in 1949, is a Rabbitohs rugby league supporter & played halfback in the lower grades for the Bunnies. Les was a successful harness trainer/driver who tasted Group 1 success in 2006 with his horse Bold And Regal. The Brown family were all fighters, 3 of Les’ uncles fought at the Sydney Stadium one night. Les’ uncle Darby Brown was a champion boxer who held the welterweight title & was inducted in the Australian National Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2015. Les’ son Darren Brown was born in 1969, is a Rabbitohs supporter & played 208 first grade rugby league games in both Australia & England.
“When Darren was 14 or 15 years old you couldn’t keep him off the horses” Les said. “So if I didn’t let him drive he used to blow up all the time. So he began driving for me occasionally & on the day of the race I had to work. Darren took charge, he took Newbridge Boy to Richmond, geared it, drove it & drove it good too.
“I was only 17 years old & there was a bit of pressure on me to take the horse there” Darren said. “I had to do everything, it was a wet day pouring rain. The horse wasn’t a great one but he used to go well on this track. He liked the grass surface, a wet track & the way of going so everything was in his favour on this day.
“Newbridge Boy was 33 to 1 but we thought he had a big hope. There was an odds on favourite in the race (Sunlit Path) but I was quietly confident. I knew we were going to lead and early in the race the driver of the favourite loomed up to pressure me but then she backed off & I got a couple of easy quarters. Around the home turn I kicked away but back then Richmond had a 300 metre straight & the winning post took forever to get past. Half way down the straight I got a little bit excited & hit the horse a few too many times with the old cane whip & copped a fine from the stewards.
“In the end I won the race & beat a couple legend drivers in Leanne Beynon & John Binskin, it was a great thrill. I drove Newbridge Boy in his next start at Penrith & he had run a quick time at Richmond so he was the favourite. We started from the back & he was a pretty fierce horse & used to get on the bit. Once we were away I couldn’t really hold him so I had to go around the field & sit in the worst position in the race in what is called the ‘death seat’ which is just outside the leader. Anyway the horse faded in the run, ran last & the punters booed me off the track.” (Ironically the winner of that race was My Triumph driven by John E Binskin)
Leanne Beynon was a successful female harness trainer/driver. Beynon won races at Sydneys’ Harold Park & was also victorious in the time honoured feature PJ Hall Memorial (Perc Hall) in 1998 with Our Big Monte over 2420m at Penrith Paceway.
In 1987 Darren Brown was dating Leannes’ sister Michelle & Darren stayed at the Beynon house the night before the race. The Beynons were a harness racing family & the girls father John Beynon was highly regarded in the industry.
“They were talking their horse Sunlit Path up” Darren recalled, “They said their horse was flying (it had won 5 races previously including a win at Richmond) & they were going to rip into me & attack me if I took the lead & that I would eventually have to hand up to them (give them the lead). I said we’ll see on the day then in the race she attacked me early but I got the bikkies & had the last laugh so to Leanne thanks a lot!
“Leanne was talented from the start & was good with the horses” said Darren Binskin. “She was one of the first ladies in the sport & did exceptionally well. Leanne also had a lot of friends at Bankstown who had her back & would look out for her”.
We also heard that Leanne had a fiery side that would flare up when she was crossed. This passionate trait was no doubt an asset for a lady making her way in a male dominated sport.
John E Binskin
John E Binskin was the leading harness driver (36 wins 1978-79) & trainer (30 wins 1980-81) at Harold Park in Sydney. Johns’ son Darren was also top trainer (42 wins 1995-96) at the same venue which was the home of harness racing in NSW until it was closed in 2010 & relocated to Menangle in western Sydney.
In 1988 John Binskin drove Our Maestro to win the group one Inter-Dominion Final at Harold Park. In the same race Johns’ son Darren drove Karalta Gift to 6th place & shook hands with his dad after they both had passed the winning post. Also at the track was Johns’ father Jack who was celebrating his 81st birthday.
“There’ll be a lot of tears shed around this course because (Binskin) has been a very poplular driver over many years” said ABC caller David Morrow. “I’m sure his father Jack will be shedding a little tear because his son has finally cracked it for an Inter Dominion championship”,
The Binskins are a famous racing family. There is a Binskin Lounge at Bankstown Paceway named after John, his father Jack & son Darren (As told to me by Chad Bentley son of the late Les Bentley former longtime Bankstown Paceway President). Tragically John passed away in 1999 after he collapsed in the Binskin Lounge. Darren Binskin says that he takes comfort in the fact that his dad died with friends around him & didn’t die alone.
“JE was a great reinsman who just had an aura about him’ said Darren Brown. “He had a distinctive style, his famous silks were black with green stars & he wielded the whip in his left hand. After I won the race on Newbridge Boy, John lent over the sulky & shook my hand, it’s a moment I’ll never forget”.
The Richmond track, based at Londonderry, was first opened as a thoroughbred and harness track and held its first meeting on December 17, 1912. Aside from four years during the depression, the track has continually held race meetings until the present day.
The gallops ceased racing at Richmond in 1952 and the Club then operated solely with its trotting licence until October 1955 when greyhound racing was introduced on the straight track on site on Saturday afternoons. The Richmond trotting track was grass & with a straight of 300m long which was the longest in NSW.
On December 30, 1997, the last harness meeting was held at Richmond is now used solely for greyhound racing.
We visited Bankstown Paceway & Darren took us to Ellis Street which is a short walk from the track. Almost every house in Ellis Street once had stables in the backyard & it was here that the Browns, Binskins & Beynons all lived in 1987. In this era the sound of horses walking to & from the track all morning was the norm. These days many of the houses have been developed into housing blocks including Les Browns’ old home. Only a handful of trainers remain in the area & only 22 meetings are held per year at Bankstown.
Whilst at the track we were given a tour by operations manager Steve Thurlow. Steves’ son Ricky drove his first harness winner in his first ever drive for Les Brown.
Chad Bentley recalled fond memories of weekly family visits the track. “It was what all the local families did” said Chad. “We’d all go for a night out & have a great time”.
John Binskins’ wife Rita was a regular at Harold Park on Friday nights & would sit in the same seat every week with her friend Shirley. Rita was loved by all. Former Sydney race caller John Tapp described her as “a special lady”.
“My mums a very classy lady & always dressed immaculately” said son Darren. “People loved to talk to her because she was a bit of an entertainer”.
Long time Harold Park bookie Billy Trotter owned Bold And Regal, the horse that Les Brown trained to win the Group 1 Sires Stakes. “Billy took everyones money” said Les Brown. “and hes still got it”.
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Written By Steve Mavin