By Ray Hickson
Life behind the scenes of racing is agreeing with Len Beasley a lot more than it was in the last couple of years of his riding career.
Weight can stop a train, they say, and in the lead up to the Equine Influenza break in 2007 weight was doing its level best to stop Beasley.
And in a roundabout way it did.
“One of the stewards rang me and said racing was going to be off for three months so I thought ‘you beauty’ and I ate pizzas, KFC and was drinking,’’ Beasley said.
“I didn’t weigh myself for a month and a half, I knew I was fat, and I hopped on and was a bit over 70kg.’’
It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since the former champion apprentice and dual Golden Slipper winning jockey, who is 41 this month, last rode competitively.
He has regrets, one or two that may never be fully resolved, but a steady job riding trackwork for Bjorn Baker over the last four years has Beasley enjoying life again.
We’ll get to that later.
While EI gave Beasley’s body the chance to breathe, and one that it took full advantage of, he did attempt a comeback in 2009 and that’s when he decided riding again would be impossible.
He was Sydney’s top apprentice in 1994-95 and runner-up to Larry Cassidy in two consecutive senior premierships (97-98 and 98-99), and has those two Slippers on the mantelpiece among other big race wins.
“I tried to get my weight back down and got to 60kg and, honestly, I couldn’t lose any more,’’ he said.
“It felt like when I was wasting to ride 53kg. My body just took over and that extra 7kg went on naturally.
“I did it very tough when I was riding, there were days I was ripping off four and five kilos each morning.
“It’s too hard. You want to be happy in life, I was riding winners but still wasn’t happy because I was so exhausted.
“(Retiring) was a relief to start with but you look back and think ‘I wasted my career’.
“I was riding Group 1 winners and I rode in Singapore and other countries. I was riding for Bart Cummings, for Gai Waterhouse but if I had my life again I’d change it.
“I was so dedicated when I was younger but it’s the same thing over and over and as I got older I wasn’t as dedicated.
“I wasn’t looking after my weight like I should and it got harder and harder.’’
That’s a far cry from how Beasley describes his first experience in a race, on a horse called Phantom’s Rose at Nowra back in 1993.
“I remember jumping out of the barriers and just thinking ‘wow’. I looked around and thought ‘this is really happening, this is my dream’,’’ he said.
Things happen in life to change your outlook and perspective and they’ve happened to Beasley.
The scars have now healed, for the most part, and while racegoers haven’t seen him in the saddle they’ve seen a lot of the fruits of his work.
Before taking on a permanent gig with Bjorn Baker, Beasley worked for Lee Freedman in Victoria for a couple of years, for Rick Worthington and for Patinack Farm when it was in operation.
He’s been Group 1 winner Music Magnate’s regular track rider for more than three years and guided the brilliant sprinter Winning Rupert.
And, little would most people know, until recently Beasley played a role in the career of superstar Winx as her rider when in pre-training.
He hasn’t had the champion out to a full gallop, just a trot and canter, but has an appreciation for her greatness that not many others do.
“I’m enjoying working for Bjorn, he’s a good bloke,’’ he said.
“I’ve also had a big thrill teaching Jean Van Overmeire. We talk every night on the phone, I watch every race he has, tell him what he’s done right and wrong.
“He gets upset with me for getting angry with him.’’
Racing NSW featured Van Overmeire’s story in the January issue and Beasley wanted it known he told the apprentice he wasn’t happy with being forgotten.
“I told him I wasn’t going to talk about him so he said ‘next interview in town I’m going to give you a mention’.’’
It’s impossible to talk about Len Beasley and not bring up his two Golden Slippers, each of which has a unique story.
There’s the unforgettable 2000 edition when Belle Du Jour blew the start but was still good enough to win – to the delight of punters on course as owner John Singleton shouted the bar.
“That horse was amazing. All she wanted to do was please you,’’ Beasley said.
“When she missed the start I remember thinking what my old master Bernie Howlett said. He always said to me never panic, to relax and take your time.
“During that race it was like I was 15 and he was teaching me, it went through my head and it just all happened.’’
Then, five years later, an opportunistic Beasley snared the ride on the brilliant Stratum and it would be a win that reignited his career after a stint in Singapore.
“I rode a winner for Singo on the Saturday Stratum won the Pago Pago,’’ he recalled.
“(Trainer) Paul Perry came in to the room to collect his colours from Darren Beadman and I overheard Darren say he had to ride one for John Hawkes.
“I waited until Darren walked away and ran down the corridor and stopped Paul and told him I didn’t have a ride in the Slipper.
“When I got in the car the phone rang and he said I could ride the horse. I got goosebumps, I just knew he was going to win.
“When I got on the horse, going to the barriers, I was so confident. Paul said try to lead and I did. I’m pretty sure from about the 700m to the 500m we had the easiest breather and I tried to
pinch it on the corner. He just went bang.’’
Aside from his first dream of being a jockey, which he does miss from time to time, Beasley’s other dream was to have a little girl.
He has three sons from his first marriage and just over two years ago his wife Shannon gave birth to Annabelle – named in honour of Belle Du Jour – and realised that dream.
“I feel down at times not race riding but I have four beautiful kids and a beautiful wife and I’m just happy I don’t have to sit in the sauna,’’ he said.