Day At The Track

It's back to square gaiters for Sidney

05:30 AM 17 May 2019 NZST
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Sidney Van den Brande,Harness racing
Sidney Van den Brande and fiancé Sarah Thornton with recent Ballarat winner Shining Oro and owner Sam Stewart

Belgian-born reinsman Sidney Van den Brande will soon feel like he's back home.

After two years working with the powerful Ballarat harness racing stable of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin, the 30-year-old is about to change scenery.

He's accepted a job with prolific trotting trainer Anton Golino at Pat Driscoll's Yabby Dam Farms, at Cardigan - a move that will return Van den Brande to his harness racing roots.

"Before coming out to Australia, I had only competed in trotting races in Belgium, France, Germany and Holland - I didn't drive pacers until I came to Australia. I'm excited at the opportunity to be back working again with them and Anton has an outstanding bunch," he said.

"It probably sounds a little crazy, but I really have been missing the trotters. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time, firstly with David Aiken, of Avenel, and then more recently with Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin.

"I knew nothing about pacers, but they were great and taught me a lot. And I drove some very good (pacing) horses with Emma and Clayton."

Van den Brande has worked with leading trainers in the northern hemisphere but is quick to rate Australia as the best of the sport. He recently drove the 100th winner of his career - 52 of those being out here.

Van den Brande said his interest in harness racing began when his older brother Nicky started helping out at a stable near the family home in Belgium.

"Nicky seemed to spend a lot of time over there and the interest rubbed off onto me," Van den Brande said.

"I remember the first time I was given the chance to drive a horse, I was very afraid. I was wearing shorts and the stones were flicking up onto my legs. It hurt a lot!

"I was happy to just clean out the boxes and do other jobs. I had never considered wanting to be a race driver."

The enthusiastic Belgian said that after spending "quite a while" honing his driving skills, he competed in an event in Holland in 2006 for concession drivers only.

"The trotter I was allocated was a winner of only one of his 105 starts and I remember my opposing drivers were laughing very loudly about my unlucky draw," he said.

"I was 27/1 and the only one above 10/1. So away we went, and I had the last laugh by winning - officially by 25 metres.

"Another memorable time was driving in Paris. It is every young kid's dream to drive there and win. I wasn't that lucky, but it was a thrill to compete there."

Van den Brande said the experience of working and driving in Europe was invaluable.

"I also worked in America, but never drove in a race. In a strange twist, when I was based in the States, so was Anton. I later moved to Sweden to gain more experience, and Anton did likewise at the same time. We never did meet up but now I'm working for him!"

Van den Brande has scored 19 victories this season, likely to comfortably pass his 21 of last season and the 12 he scored in a sensational start to his Australian race driving career in 2016-17.

"After joining Emma and Clayton, they gave me a chance and I drove eight consecutive winners in my first eight drives. I then had a second, and then another win. That was unbelievable.

"My best win so far has been with Perfect Look. We won the SA Southern Cross 3yo fillies final in Adelaide in July 2017 - that was my first Group race success.

"Later the same year I won the $50,000 Tasmania Cup with Major Secret. I guess that was special as well."

He rates Melton and Bendigo as two of his favorite tracks.

"It's very hard to win at Melton. But I have won three races there and it was in three weeks. I thought how easy is this? Then later reality kicked in!

"Bendigo has a nice shape and a good vibe."

Van den Brande said naming his favorite driver was easy because Chris Alford is such a champion of the sport.

"I also admire the way Gavin Lang is so cool and gets a lot from the horses, while Luke McCarthy always seems to come out of nowhere and be there at the finish," he said.

"The racing here is different to back home, but the biggest difference is the longer carts. I just find myself sitting a long way back, but I'm slowly adjusting.

"My parents are elderly now and weren't ever interested in horses, but they seem to be enjoying what I do. They ring me all the time so I think they must like it."

Van den Brande said that with his time spent with trotters, he hoped he could sometimes offer some positive ideas at his new stable.

"But maybe not as Anton is most experienced and very talented! I just want to keep finding my way and don't expect to have too many drives because there's a few above me, but that's fine."

Outside of harness racing, Van den Brande admits he has become an avid fan of Formula One racing.

"I went down to Albert Park, Melbourne to watch it and got hooked," he said.

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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