The Courier-Mail

LONG LIVE THE KING

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HERE’S what you won’t see again. You won’t see this man with a grey mane and rear­ing eye­brows saun­ter­ing down the steps of the grand­stand on Mel­bourne Cup day.

He’ll be wear­ing avi­a­tor sun­glasses and an ex­pres­sion that says he’s turned up only be­cause he has noth­ing bet­ter to do.

He’ll dab at the rill of a tear on his cheek be­cause he al­ways gets hay fever when he wins a Mel­bourne Cup.

He’ll walk slowly be­cause he hates bus­tle – it fright­ens the horses – and there will be a hint of a smile.

That’s be­cause he’s spot­ted the media and needs to think up some­thing arch.

If his first es­say at drollery works, his smile will be­come lop­sided, as though he’s sur­prised him­self, which he hasn’t.

He is a shy and soli­tary man – un­know­able, re­ally – and hu­mour, the dry wit of the old Aus­tralia, is his de­fence against in­trud­ers and a cagey way to hide his in­tel­lect.

There will be no fists in the air, no hugs. He won’t say he’s fo­cused be­cause he doesn’t be­lieve in sports bab­ble.

You’ll not see this again be­cause Bart Cum­mings is dead and no one else is like him. No one has ever been like him.

He was that rarest thing, an orig­i­nal. The world changed and he didn’t. Fame got to other peo­ple and he just shrugged it off as another im­poster. He backed his in­stincts and ig­nored the coat­tug­gers. He be­longed to the golden age of rac­ing that ex­isted be­fore the cor­po­rates turned it into a seven-days-a-week casino with a soul to match.

Rac­ing got smaller and Bart got big­ger. The Mel­bourne Cup’s ul­ti­mate hero turned out not to be a horse but a man.

Cum­mings had only one hero, his fa­ther, James, a shy and cour­te­ous man who learnt his trade rop­ing brumbies at Alice Springs and trained Comic Court to win the 1950 Mel­bourne Cup.

As a child Bart had asthma so se­vere he some­times turned pur­ple as he gasped for breath.

His fa­ther took him to a spe­cial­ist in Ade­laide who scratched his arm and ex­posed him to tox­ins from feed, horse hair and hay. Bart’s arm went red. Noth­ing to worry about, said the doc­tor. All you have to do to be free from asthma is to stay away from horses and sta­bles.

Out­side, on North Ter­race, Bart, all of 16, turned to his fa­ther and said: “We’ve done our dough.” Sixty years later, the fee for the con­sul­ta­tion still ran­kled. “Four­teen guineas!” Cum­mings would snort.

Maybe there was another hero apart from his fa­ther: the horse it­self. Cum­mings loved look­ing at horses in the inky lights af­ter dawn, loved try­ing to get into their heads. He’d stare at a filly do­ing slow work with its neck arched, its head and tail on ex­actly the same line, and nod ap­proval. Horses weren’t just an­i­mals; they were puzzles to be solved. No two were the same. You’d see Cum­mings, el­bows on

TO BE AS­SO­CI­ATED WITH BART CUM­MINGS JUST IN GEN­ERAL IS AN HON­OUR DAR­REN BEAD­MAN (JOCKEY) BART CUM­MINGS STANDS ABOVE ALL IN THE HISTORY OF AUS­TRALIAN RAC­ING DAR­REN PEARCE (AUS­TRALIAN TURF CLUB EX­EC­U­TIVE)

the run­ning rail, suck­ing on a boiled lolly, star­ing at one of his horses as it picked grass af­ter a morn­ing gal­lop. What was it think­ing? Why was it lay­ing its ears back?

That was his ge­nius, solv­ing rid­dles about horses. But, like ev­ery­thing else about him, it was hid­den be­hind his wit.

Cum­mings is fa­mous for his re­ply long ago to the coun­cil in­spec­tor in Ade­laide who told him he had too many flies around his sta­bles.

“How many am I al­lowed to have?” Cum­mings asked.

Peo­ple were al­ways try­ing to dis­cover his ‘se­cret’. The as­sump­tion was that it had to be some­thing deep and mys­ti­cal, a for­mula for turn­ing base met­als into gold. The truth was rather more or­di­nary and has been on show for 60 years. Cum­mings was an ex­cep­tion­ally good feeder and knew just how much work a horse could take. But lots of train­ers are good at these sums.

What distin­guished Cum­mings was his char­ac­ter. There was a ruth­less­ness, a self-belief that few pos­sess. Cum­mings sim­ply made plans for his horses based on ev­ery­thing he knew and ev­ery­thing he had learnt from his fa­ther. The plans were formed and re­fined in his soli­tary world and, once made, there was no vol­un­tary de­vi­a­tion, no con­ces­sions to the views of out­siders or the media, so that on the eve of a Mel­bourne Cup the horse was look­ing ex­actly the way he had planned it would look four months ago. The ‘ se­cret’ was sim­ply this: there was no se­cret – none ex­cept what was go­ing on in Bart’s head.

He wanted horses to re­lax, to learn to breathe, to be like him. Bart knew how to re­lax; some of us have never seen him walk briskly. Af­ter Viewed gave Cum­mings his 12th Mel­bourne Cup, Joe Agresta, Bart’s track rider and a su­perb horse­man, was so ex­cited he was shak­ing. Cum­mings in­vited Agresta to the Ter­race res­tau­rant for a drink. Agresta ar­rived there an hour later, still trem­bling.

“He’s sit­ting back and look­ing at the Mel­bourne skyline and he says: ‘ Hey, Joe, you see that big wheel over there?’ He was point­ing to the South­ern Star Ob­ser­va­tion Wheel at Dock­lands. ‘There’s some­thing go­ing on there. That thing hasn’t moved for five or six days’. I thought to my­self: ‘He’s got to be kid­ding, this bloke. He’s just won his 12th Mel­bourne Cup and he’s sit­ting there wor­ry­ing about this big Fer­ris wheel thing’. I couldn’t be­lieve it.”

It was the same at the sta­bles. “We’d be rush­ing around,” Agresta said, “and Bart would say: ‘Joe, these flow­ers are a bit dry. You’d bet­ter wa­ter them’. And I’d say: ‘Bart, we’ve got to get to the races’. And he’d say: ‘Yeah, I know, but just give them a bit of wa­ter be­fore you go’. We’re talk­ing about Cup Day or Derby Day. We might have eight run­ners for the day. And he’s wor­ry­ing about the flow­ers!”

Agresta also pro­duced one of the wis­est ob­ser­va­tions about Cum­mings: “If you think you know Bart, you don’t know Bart.” Just about ev­ery­one who’s ever worked with him says that in the end he was un­know­able.

Bart left this world at the place he loved best, his farm on the Ne­pean River at Castlereag­h. Princes Farm is like him: lan­guid, un­der­stated, pri­vate – and pur­pose­ful.

Here he was a dif­fer­ent per­son, ef­fu­sive and an­i­mated, a French no­ble­man show­ing you his es­tate. He takes you to a wren’s nest and mar­vels at its beauty. He stands there, pro­pri­etor and cu­ra­tor, point­ing out trees you might have missed. “There’s a liq­uid am­ber – got a few of them. See the jacaran- das? Those are pines over there.” He swings his arm to the river bank. “See those? They’re Chi­nese elms – see how they make a row. And the poplars – see the poplars?”

Here he was nearly know­able. And he left us – well, sort of. Some will for­ever see this bloke wan­der­ing out of the grand­stand af­ter win­ning the Mel­bourne Cup and pre­tend­ing he only did it be­cause he had noth­ing bet­ter to do.

HE’S RE­ALLY SET THE BAR AND WE’RE ALL TRY­ING TO JUMP OVER IT

DAVID HAYES (TRAINER) HE WAS A GREAT TEACHER, A MASTER TRAINER AND IT’S VERY SAD. THE RAC­ING IN­DUS­TRY HAS LOST ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREATS NIGEL BLACKISTON (STA­BLE FORE­MAN)

 ??  ?? GOOD THING: Bart Cum­mings salutes his win­ner in the 1999 Mel­bourne Cup, Ro­gan Josh; and with his trainer son An­thony and grand­son James at the track.
GOOD THING: Bart Cum­mings salutes his win­ner in the 1999 Mel­bourne Cup, Ro­gan Josh; and with his trainer son An­thony and grand­son James at the track.
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 ?? LES CAR­LYON
Vet­eran rac­ing writer ??
LES CAR­LYON Vet­eran rac­ing writer
 ??  ?? TOP COM­PANY: Bart Cum­mings kisses his wife Val; meet­ing the Queen; and with jockey Glen Boss af­ter win­ning the 2009 Cox Plate.
TOP COM­PANY: Bart Cum­mings kisses his wife Val; meet­ing the Queen; and with jockey Glen Boss af­ter win­ning the 2009 Cox Plate.
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