BLAST FROM THE PAST
1991 VINNY KNIGHT: Australian Reinsman
There seems no sense to make of the tragic death of Vincent John ("Vinny") Knight. Dashing, dark and handsome, Vinny was an Australian harness racing celebrity.
He took off as a young rebel in his teens, but he learned his lessons quickly. At a young age, only 36, there was little he hadn't achieved. Hard work, natural ability, a competitive spirit and a desire to succeed quickly took him beyond the pack.
In the early 1980's, he became well-known through the wonderful efforts of Popular Alm. He would say of 'Poppy'..."He made good horses, real good horses, look like idiots. He had everything. He had freak ability. He was a aristocrat when he walked onto the track. Everybody was proud just to look at the horse - 'there is Poplular Alm, isn't he a great horse'- and he looked a good horse. He had everything. If he had been a human being, everybody would have flocked all over him. He was just a beautiful horse, I have never had one better than him, and never will."
After that his success rate flourished. For the past three seasons Knight has driven horses that have totalled more than $1 million in stakes. He has driven more than 700 winners in Melbourne: no-one's done that before. He has won 18 Inter-Dominion heats; he has been leading Melbourne reinsman five times. The great horses he has driven include Jane Ellen, Sinbad Bay, Smooth Falcon, Our Maestro, Jodie's Babe, Alpine Fella, Panyan, Thor Lobell, Koala Knight, Rockleigh Victory, Allan Grant and Almeta Boy.
Off the track, he was deeply affected by the death of his mother Aileen, and the booing of Bag Limit after his sensational win in the 1988 Winfield Cup upset him. "She was a very proud lady. She just loved to go and watch me drive. After Mum died, it was probably the hardest time of my life," he told Bob Cain in the Trotting Weekly.
Knight was hurt by the crowd demonstration after he had spent hours getting Bag Limit to the post for the Cup. "When you work with horses seven days a week, it upsets you when they start booing after the race. They might have been booing me, but I could see them booing 'Baggie.' He didn't deserve that. he tried his guts out every time he went to Moonee Valley. He didn't deserve any boos. I feel for my horses; I love 'em."
Speculation and rumour will persist on other pressures that surrounded his life in the fast lane, for no doubt he had them. Vinny was extremely popular. Whenever he was in New Zealand, he was often attended by a clutch of stable followers and fans. In some ways, Vinny was to the harness racing industry what film star James Dean was to the American youth in the early 1950's.
Such image-makers are few and far between. Like all larger-than-life personalities taken in their prime, Vinny wasn't here long enough.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 17Apr91