TODAY marks the anniversary of the great Vin Knight’s death, so to remember his record-breaking feats and flamboyant nature, we are publishing a fantastic read thanks to the archives of another late great, Bob Cain. The article was originally posted on our sister website, Harness News, last year…..enjoy!
TWO harness racing greats were honoured at Tabcorp Park Melton last night as a stellar gathering enjoyed the latest edition of the Victorian Harness Racing Media Association’s Hall of Fame dinner.
Already a member of the elite fraternity, the late Vin Knight was elevated to a higher status – that of Legend – in what was a popular decision among the attendees.
The honourees also included Bob Cain, who is widely-regarded as a legend among his media peers.
Media man Rob Auber was the well-deserved recipient of the Bob Cain Memorial Award, which recognises outstanding service to harness racing from a ‘press man’.
Fittingly, www.harnessnews.com.au has uncovered an interview, which led to Knight and Cain becoming close friends and no doubt the pair are enjoying a drink together as they look down upon us.
“Knight was called many things during his trotting career – flamboyant, brash, cocky, and even arrogant. I must admit, at one stage I thought he was all of these, and much more. My whole opinion of the man changed dramatically, however, after spending a Sunday afternoon with him at his favourite pub, the Red Lion Hotel in Kilmore, early in January 1991.
Although I had had several drinks with Knight on occasions in Kilmore, and other places, and had knocked up interviewing him after many of his victories at Moonee Valley and interstate, we were not on what you would call intimate terms. I arranged to meet him for lunch that Sunday to interview him for a story, subsequently published in a four-page lift out in the January 11, 1991, issue of National Trotting Weekly.
It was the longest, single discussion I have ever had on trotting since getting into the game in August 1959. I felt greatly enriched by the long chat. The idea for the story was the result of a discussion my wife, Judy, and I, had with him at the Red Lion Hotel about six or seven months earlier.
He was still having trouble coming to grips with the fact his mother had died several months earlier, after a heroic battle against cancer for many years. During the course of that long discussion, Knight bared his soul, so to speak. Among many things he said that night, was the fact he never doubted he would succeed in this business.
Knight also gave an inkling of what was to happen on that Tuesday morning in April, 1991. “I always knew I would be successful at trotting,” he said. “But, I don’t think I will be around all that much longer. I have had a premonition I will be dead before I’m forty,” he added.
After that interview with Knight in January 1991, I visited his stables in Wandong Road many times and became more friendlier with him. In fact I enjoyed a drink with him at the Red Lion Hotel the night before he took his life. Several of his stablehands were there, along with Invercargill horseman Wayne Adams, the trainer of First Glimpse, celebrating the colt’s victory at Moonee Valley the previous Saturday night. They were all in high spirits.
Several hours later he was found dead in his car on the Northern Highway, south of Kilmore, approximately mid-way between the home of his estranged wife, Dianne, and their two children, Natasha and Hayley, and the Knight stable complex in Wandong Road.
Despite what many people may have thought of him, Vin Knight was a deep thinker, and this came out in the interview. “I believe in the power of the mind,” he said at one stage. “You can do anything, if you want to do it.” Unfortunately, and sadly for those left behind to mourn him, this meant taking his own life.
Whether you liked the man, or not, and in a sport where jealousy seems to be a pre-requisite, sadly there are, unfortunately, a lot that did not like him. One fact is indisputable, however, Vin Knight was a champion horseman.
That four-page liftout I did on Vin Knight was subsequently judged the best feature story of the year by the Victorian Harness Racing Board, and an edited version, concerning his early days in the sport and his association with Popular Alm, follows:
Where we you born and educated?
“I was born here (Kilmore) on the fifth of the fifth, fifty-four. Well I think I was born here. Mum and Dad had one or two kids in Melbourne, but I’ve lived here all my life, but I don’t know whether I was born in a Melbourne hospital or whether I was born here. I went to school here. Did my primary schooling here then went to the High School at Broadford, but I never liked school. I was good with my hands. I could do anything with my hands, and I wanted to be a carpenter when I was a kid. I went to Form three, but left school when I was about 14 and a half. You just couldn’t leave any earlier.”
Were there times when you thought you would never make it to the top?
“When I was a kid growing up, I thought I’ll have a champion one day. I will have a champion, I kept telling myself. I used to listen to the races at Harold Park, and hear the good horses like Rocket Glenfern race, and I said I’ll have a champion one day. That’s every kid’s dream to have a champion. And then I went out into trotting at 16 and had Cita Dollar, who was a great mare.
“Things started going a little bit wrong, just through one part of one year. She fell over and hurt her knees and I thought, ‘Geez, I’m not getting that champion. Will I get it?’ Because all these years I’d been telling myself I’d get one. Because I was a kid, I didn’t know. And then she fell arse over head and cut her knees open. That really broke me up. I thought I might never get one.
“I can remember I was only about 17, and I thought, ‘Well Geez you know, you’ve got to keep them ripe,’ then I tried to think of all these other trainers that hadn’t had a champion, who were older people. It was just only a matter of one part of my life, at about 17 that I thought, ‘Shit, I might never get a champion,’ But from then on, I knew I would.”
Did you learn anything from other trainers and drivers along the way?
“I read books about the top drivers and trainers, and I was lucky because I went to all the Inter Dominions when I was about 16. Even though I was working the horses, I would take Inter Dominion time off and go. I would talk to George Noble and Cecil Devine, all the great champions that could train horses.
“I learnt a lot from George Noble. He was a champion. A lot of them old blokes, who are set in their ways and won’t listen to anybody else, that’s the only thing I found about them. They won’t do anything anybody else’s way. I think George Noble was a great trainer, and his record proved it.
“I was at Albion Park in Brisbane when George won the Inter Dominion with Stanley Rio in 1977. I had a caravan on the track and they arrived there late one night before the series started. I stayed up late to help them get settled in and show them what to do and get the horse bedded down.
“I’ll never forget the first words George said to me as long as I live. He said. ‘Hey boy, hold this horse’. I said ‘My name’s not boy, mate, it’s Vinny.’ That was my first introduction to George Noble. He was a real arrogant bastard. But, from then on, he treated me like a son.
“He talked to me for hours. He told me what he had done in America, and what he had done all through his life. He was real interesting. Hours, and hours and hours I talked to him, every day. He was a nice old bloke, but a very arrogant man. He was the sort of bloke that if he liked you, he’d talk to you. But if he didn’t, he wouldn’t give you the spit.”
Was Popular Alm the turning point in your life, or would you have been just as successful if he hadn’t been in your stable?
“My profile with the kids, and with the public, I think was brought out by Poppy. I probably would have brought it out myself anyway, but the relationship with the kids is something I’m real proud of. They get my autograph and they say ‘How are you going, Vinny’, and you’ll see them down at Moonee Valley, and you’ll see them in Adelaide, ‘C’mon, Vinny, we want you to win.’ I get a big kick out of that. I think Poppy created that over the years, I really do. He started it and I’ve kept it going.
“You see little kids driving with my colours and wearing them. I remember one kid had leukaemia, and used to wear my colours at the trots. He loved me, or he loved the horses, and he loved Poppy. He died when he was 16, but he looked as though he was about 10. He came up to Kilmore and drove Poppy. That was the biggest kick in his life, but then he died.
“I got a big thrill out of seeing that kid enjoy himself with Poppy, because you think, well I’m working away, seven days a week, and all of a sudden the kids see that, and they notice you. You just get a big kick out of that. If you don’t, you’re not human. I love it when the kids come up and they want my autograph.”
You maintain that Popular Alm is the best horse you have been associated with, but have you ever been tempted to put others on the same pedestal as him?
“Oh, yeah. Smooth Falcon and Sinbad Bay, because they had the same brilliance. They also had a little bit of bad luck through their life, but because of Poppy’s race ability, and because of the way he raced, he was the best horse. Possibly the best horse I’ve ever seen.
“He had everything. He could sit up, but he pulled a little bit. He just wanted to win, and that’s why he pulled a bit. He could do anything. Come from behind, you see Westburn Grant getting good draws, but Poppy had bad draws in about 80 per cent of his races, but he was able to make a bad draw into a good draw.
“I remember drawing 10 at Moonee Valley in a mile and he was in front before they got to the turn, and he went 57 neat, or 56 something, and he was in front on the turn. They couldn’t come from barrier 10 over the old mile, which was on the side. They couldn’t do it. It wasn’t a bad field either, as Gundary Flyer and Gammalite and all them were in the race. He was the best horse. He made good horses, real good horses, look like idiots.
“He could make Westburn Grant look like an idiot. I believe that, because I always wanted some horse to go like Westburn Grant, flat chat out in front, and then pull him out. But the quality horses, like Gammalite and that, were all a bit lazy. I always said that if Poppy ever gets a horse to go flat chat out in front he’ll just run anything. He could peel off any pace. He won over two miles, he won over one mile, and I think he was the best horse I’ve ever seen. I really do.
“Poppy got better and better as he went along, because he was trained that way. He wanted to be that way himself. He couldn’t get that way if he didn’t want to be that way himself, but he was trained to get better and better.
“Poppy had everything. He had freak ability. He was an aristocrat when he walked onto the track. Everybody was proud to just look at the horse – there’s Popular Alm, isn’t he a great horse – and he looked a good horse. He had everything, everything. If he had been a human being, everybody would have just flocked all over him. He was just a beautiful horse. I’ve never had one better than him, and never will.”