62 BART CUMMINGS 1927-2015 THE LEGEND WILL
WHAT would you think of the rugby league coach who wins this year’s NRL premiership if he repeated his success in the year 2058?
And won it 10 times in between.
Pure fantasy, you might argue. That’s 43 years apart – surely it could never happen.
But it did happen. Not in rugby league but in racing.
Master horseman Bart Cummings did it with his 12 Melbourne Cup wins, spanning from Light Fingers in 1965 to Viewed in 2008.
And he did it despite being allergic to horse hair.
A specialist told Cummings when he was 16 that he would battle asthma and allergies for the rest of his life if he stayed around horses but that only fortified his desire to do just that.
He played it smart, training up a group of trusted lieutenants to work closely with the horses and think just like he did when he was not around.
Cummings, who died early yesterday at age 87, was a man known by everyone and no one.
For all his fame even Malcolm Knox, who helped write Cummings’ autobiography, admitted he knew the real man no better at the end of the project than he did at the start.
Cummings will always be remembered as the man who launched a thousand quips but many felt that they were a mask for shyness and the real Bart was kept well away from public view.
When told by a stable inspector his residence had too many flies, he responded “how many am I allowed?’’ and he reportedly once told owners his fees were “$100 a day or $120 a day if you want to ring me and tell me how to train the horse.’’
The latter was a subtle way of saying just let him be.
Like so many long-lasting horse trainers, there was a stacked spoonful of eccentricity in Cummings’ nature that came from spending year after year overworked, underrested and with an inquisitive mind that spun as ceaselessly as a radar dish searching for new information.
Cummings knew more than anyone but never thought he knew it all.
Cummings’ stable vet once nodded off to sleep in a hospital bed halfway through a conversation with Cummings about one of his horses.
Later he woke to have a relentless Cummings, still bedside, greet him with “now, before you fell asleep you were saying ...’’
The search for an edge never left him and that fact that he proved victorious in the Melbourne Cup’s three tightest finishes tends to confirm the old saying that the only thing Bart had to worry about in the Melbourne Cup was the race starting five minutes late because his horses were literally trained to the second.
Just as basketball’s Michael Jordan once said he never liked to stay anywhere for longer than five minutes because of the crowd that gathered around him, Cummings never stopped for long.
At the races he would have two minutes for everyone yet 10 minutes for no one.
He never liked setup photos because that meant standing still.
His relationship with his son Anthony, also a horse trainer, was complex and revealing.
Anthony once said of his father “he taught me everything I know but not all he knows”.
Once asked whether he considered his son his protege or a rival, Bart shot back with “rival’’ as if it was a dumb question.
Yet Anthony never tried to escape his father’s shadow in the way that Don Bradman’s son did and his Twitter handle introduction as “son of Bart’’ confirms his pride at the family name.
If father-of-five Bart was hard on his privately schooled children, it may have been because he remembered what a rough and tumble journey had done for him, including fighting back from debts totalling $11 million in the 1990s.
Bart’s father Jim worked in the mines at Kalgoorlie in the Great Depression years and once rounded up some wild bush horses and walked them from Alice Springs to Adelaide, winning some picnic races on the way.
To his dying day, Bart still employed some feeds he invented with his father and subscribed to his Jim’s basic principle of “feed them big and work them hard”.
Like Black Caviar, he transcended his sport.
The name Bart was always enough to identify him in the same way that Kylie, Elton, Bruce are on first-name terms with fame in the music industry. He was that big. The Melbourne Cup will go on without him this November but it won’t be the same for the millions of punters who would always back Bart to win the Cup simply because he so often did.