The Courier-Mail



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.

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