Lenny Beasley couldn’t remember if it’s eleven or twelve years, since the ravages of the sweat box forced him out of racing.
“I know my last ride was at Kembla Grange for Clarry Conners, but don’t ask me the name of the horse”, said Lenny this week. “I just knew I couldn’t do it for one more day”.
It was a cruel blow for the man with the mind of a jockey, and the body of a Rugby League half back.
Had his career been less productive, he would have escaped his torturous lifestyle much earlier.
But more than 1200 winners and a stunning tally of 15 Group 1 races, somehow counterbalanced the misery and tedium of life away from the races.”It changes your personality”, recalled Lenny. “I was an absolute bastard, and God help anybody who looked sideways at me”.
Lenny Beasley grew up in Wollongong, and apart from his father Doug having the occasional flutter at the local TAB, there was not a trace of racing in his background.
As a youngster he desperately wanted to ride, and pestered his parents incessantly to buy him a pony. He had noticed an unused grey pony in a neighbour’s paddock, and one day it got the better of him.
He knocked on the door, and before he knew it, he had a grey pony to take home provided his parents agreed.
Some time later Lenny was able to return the grey pony, when his parents surprised him with a new pony called “Cocoa” as a birthday present.
“It should have been a happy experience for me”, said Lenny.”But Cocoa was an absolute little mongrel to kick and bite. You had to watch him every second”.
Before long young Mr. Beasley was a regular at pony gymkhanas, excelling in sporting events like barrel racing. His poise and balance in the saddle was already evident.
His Dad got a job transfer to Dubbo, and by this time Lenny’s aspirations to become a jockey had well and truly materialised.
The then Commonwealth Employment Service directed the youngster to trainer Wayne Cone’s stables at Gulgong, and that’s where he learned the basics of racehorse management.
Before long Lenny decided to return to Wollongong, and seek employment at the busy Kembla Grange racing precinct. The very first door he banged on was opened by prominent trainer Bernie Howlett, whose apprentice Justin Sheehan had just resigned, leaving a vacancy.
“The timing was unbelievable”, recalled Beasley. “I started straight away, and completed the first half of my apprenticeship with Bernie. He was a strict disciplinarian, but that didn’t do me any harm”.
Bernie Howlett didn’t train Lenny Beasley’s first winner as a jockey. That distinction went to Jim Turner, who put the youngster on a grey gelding called Coal Cellar in a C2 class race at Queanbeyan in May 1993.
Lenny had to wait a full year before his first metropolitan winner came along. It was a gelding called Jazzstad in a restricted race at Rosehill, and this one was trained by Bernie Howlett.
Beasley completed the second half of his apprenticeship with likeable Kiwi Kerry Jordan at Rosehill, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“Kerry was a great bloke to work for, and I have many happy memories of my time there”, said Lenny.
Jordan had Baryshnikov in the stable at the time, and won the Group 1 Australian Guineas with the colt in early 1995.Two runs before the Guineas, he entrusted young Beasley with the ride in a 3 year old race at Randwick, and the grey was beaten under unusual circumstances.
Nine days earlier, a massive crowd gathered at Randwick racecourse to see Pope John Paul 11 preside over a Mass for the Beatification of Mother Mary MacKillop. AJC track staff placed timber walkways across the course proper and the grass training tracks, to avert wear and tear as the public throng crossed to the infield. The walkways left a clear imprint on the turf, which distracted horses on the day.
“Baryshnikov was going to win when he jumped that imprint, and lost momentum”, recalled Lenny. “He was run down and beaten by a horse called Eurimbla”.
That was the one and only time Lenny got to ride Baryshnikov, and he has blamed the Pope ever since.
Fifteen Group 1 wins in such a limited career, will stand as lasting testimony to the talents of Lenny Beasley. His first was on the Paul Perry trained Notoire in the 1997 Salinger Stakes at Flemington.
An early Group 1 win was on Shindig in the 1998 Coolmore Classic. “Trainer Max Lees told me not to get too far back, and not to be wide coming to the turn”, recalled Lenny with a grin.”I was nearly last early, and got pushed right off the track on the hometurn, and she still ran over the top of them”.
A couple of weeks later Lenny came from a mile back to win the Doncaster for Bart Cummings on Catalan Opening.
A heavy track aided Len in his Galaxy win on the honest Masked Party in 1999, defeating his old favourite Notoire.
The jockey was called upon by the in form John Size stable, to win the 2000 Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Georgie Boy. First prize was $512,000, compared to the $2.4 million collected by Winx in the 2018 edition.
Gai Waterhouse provided Lenny with a Group 1 double in 2003. They combined to win the Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes with the very talented filly Hasna. Beasley won another Champagne Stakes on Carry On Cutie for the Rogerson stable, and I’ve just uncovered a Group 1 George Ryder Stakes on Al Mansour.
Beasley’s two Golden Slipper wins are the supreme highlights of his short, but distinguished riding career.
The first on Belle Du Jour in 2000 remains an indelible memory, for those who witnessed the race on course, or on television.
“That filly was so genuine, and wanted to please everyone around her”, recalled Beasley. “When the gates opened she tried to begin too fast, got all muddled up and jumped high in the air. Luckily she kept her body straight. Had she gone left or right, I couldn’t have stayed on”.
Belle Du Jour’s performance is talked about with continued astonishment, whenever racing people discuss Slipper history.The scenes in the birdcage after the race were unparalleled. John Singleton put a “bear hug” on part owner Bob Hawke, which almost suffocated the former Prime Minister. Singo later shouted free drinks for the public, and the queues were endless.
Beasley only rode Stratum twice, but one of them was on exactly the right day. Both Lenny and trainer Paul Perry believed the colt only needed to stay out of trouble to win, and that’s the way it panned out.
Two things have happened in Lenny Beasley’s life, that have given him an unshakeable belief in fate.
Shortly before taking up a riding contract in Singapore in 2002, Len and his first wife Natalie, decided on a short holiday in Bali. He still shudders when he recalls that they left the Sari Club, one hour before the horrific blast that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Fate was again kind to the Beasleys in 2004 when they left a Phuket holiday resort, two days before the deadliest tsunami in history killed 230,000 in 14 countries.
Len’s stay in Singapore was a very successful one, as he and trainer Laurie Laxon bagged a host of winners.
These days you’ll find all 75kgs of Lenny Beasley at Warwick Farm six mornings a week, riding work exclusively for Bjorn Baker.This has been his life for over a decade now, although he made one valiant effort to get back to race riding in 2007.
“I got down to 60kgs fairly comfortably, but I couldn’t get under that for love nor money”, said Beasley.”With great regret I abandoned all comeback plans”.
Lenny is now married to Shannon, and the pair have a delightful two and a half year old daughter Annabel. Lenny and his first wife Natalie had three sons. Lachlan, Brent and Jarrod are all grown up, and making their way in life.
Lenny is currently dealing with the recent passing of his mother Dawn, after a battle with cancer.
The Australian Turf Club very generously arranged for jockeys to wear black armbands on Coolmore Classic Day as a mark of respect to the Beasley family.
Life has taken Lenny Beasley in many different directions since the day he borrowed that little grey pony from the kindly neighbour at Wollongong.
Can you imagine the memories Lenny Beasley rekindles as he goes a working gallop on one of Bjorn Baker’s team, at a Warwick Farm track work session. The tough times are well behind him now, and maybe there are moments when he thinks every drop of sweat was worth it.
Like me you've probably watched the replay of Belle Du Jour's amazing 2000 Golden Slipper win, a dozen times. Its worth another look. Watch the filly jump in the air at the start.
Commentary by my great friend Ian Craig.