The Courier-Mail

HE WAS THE REIN­ING CHAM­PION

GEN­TLE­MANLY, QUIET AND COUR­TE­OUS WITH A GREAT MANE OF SIL­VERY HAIR IS HOW RAY THOMAS FONDLY RE­CALLS BART CUM­MINGS, THE MAN WHO WON 12 MEL­BOURNE CUPS

- ray.thomas@news.com.au

THE man had an aura about him. With that great mane of sil­very hair – and those eye­brows – Bart Cum­mings was in­stantly recog­nis­able.

I re­mem­ber the first time I ever in­ter­viewed him. It was af­ter the Wake­ful Stakes in 1989 and I had to re­port on the race for the old Sun­day Her­ald broad­sheet in Mel­bourne.

Cum­mings was the trainer of the out­stand­ing Tris­tanagh, who was dom­i­nat­ing the fil­lies clas­sics that spring and had just romped home in the Stakes.

I lis­tened as more ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ists ques­tioned Cum­mings about Tris­tanagh be­fore I plucked up the courage to ask the great trainer where she ranked with his best fil­lies.

“I don’t know,’’ Cum­mings replied. “I’ve had some good ones.”

Then two days later at early morn­ing Flem­ing­ton track­work, I walked past the “Cups King” and qui­etly said: “Good morn­ing, Mr Cum­mings.’’

Cum­mings of­fered his hand, asked my name and said: “Call me Bart.’’

As a sports-mad school­boy dur­ing the ’70s, I grew up mar­vel­ling at Cum­mings’s abil­ity to pre­pare cham­pion race­horses to win Mel­bourne Cups, Golden Slip­pers and just about ev­ery­thing else, so for this ju­nior re­porter, I was hum­bled and have never for­got­ten this sim­ple, but kind, ges­ture.

Cum­mings was gen­tle­manly, po­lite and cour­te­ous, never re­fused an in­ter­view, al­ways made me feel at ease – but he would let me know qui­etly and firmly if his time was lim­ited.

De­spite his longevity and ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess, fame didn’t change him.

I once asked him how he coped with the pres­sure of be­ing Bart Cum­mings.

“I don’t think about it [fame] much,’’ he said. “S’pose it’s good peo­ple recog­nise me be­cause it means they are tak­ing an in­ter­est in rac­ing.’’

I also learnt Bart lived for to­mor­row. He rarely, if ever, spent energy re­flect­ing on his ca­reer.

In 2003, I rang the mae­stro to re­quest an in­ter­view as he was about to pass a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone – 50 years as a trainer.

Cum­mings lis­tened as I ex­plained the rea­son for the in­ter­view re­quest be­fore there was a lengthy pause. Fi­nally, he replied: “No, you have to be wrong.’’

“But you have Bart, the record books say you started in the au­tumn of 1953,’’ I replied.

“Hang on a minute,’’ said Cum­mings as he shuf­fled some pa­pers and did some check­ing of his own.

“Yeah, you’re right,’’ he said. “I didn’t know it had been 50 years. 50 years? Time goes quickly when you are en­joy­ing your­self.’’

His train­ing record was truly Brad­manesque: 12 Mel­bourne Cups, seven Caulfield Cups, 13 Aus­tralian Cups, five Cox Plates, four Golden Slip­pers, 32 Der­bies, 24 Oaks ... 268 Group 1 wins in to­tal, and an es­ti­mated 8000plus race wins. I once asked him if there was a se­cret to his suc­cess. Cum­mings h C pon­dered the an­swer, then gave an in­sight into what makes a great race­horse trainer – and for him it be­gan in 1950.

His fa­ther Jim was a trainer and won the Mel­bourne Cup that year with the cham­pion Comic Court.

Bart was the horse’s strap­per and re­calls suc­cess that day as a life-chang­ing mo­ment.

“When Dad won the Cup you could say it gave me a bit of am­bi­tion,’’ Cum­mings said.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do be­fore that day.’’

Cum­mings says he learnt a lot about train­ing race­horses from his fa­ther.

“Dad knew about horses,’’ Cum­mings re­called. “He used to work at a sta­tion in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and rode the 1910 Alice Springs Cup win­ner.

“They used to breed and sell horses at the sta­tion as re­mounts to In­dia. Dad used to do the lot – raise them, feed them, train them and then ride them down to Port Au­gusta, where they were put on a ship for In­dia.

“He re­alised there was no fu­ture in that and gave it away af­ter a cou­ple of years.

“The only pay he re­ceived was two horses and a pony.

“He rode them down to Ade­laide and started train­ing not long af­ter that.

“I guess it was good ground­ing for him, the best way to learn about horses.’’

Bart took out a trainer’s li­cence in 1953 and in his own words, he wasn’t an overnight suc­cess. It took him two years to train his first win­ner.

“I had about half a dozen in work but it wasn’t easy back then. It was pretty tough,’’ Cum­mings said.

“It was only when I went to New Zealand to buy my own horses that I started to have some suc­cess.

“I de­cided un­less I buy my own horses, I’ve got no hope.’’

Cum­mings had what they call in the rac­ing game “the eye’’ for pur­chas­ing year­lings – that in­de­fin­able, in­her­ent qual­ity that only the truly gifted horseper­son has.

Few if any­one did it bet­ter than Cum­mings.

His cham­pi­ons read like a “who’s who’’ of Aus­tralian rac­ing: Storm Queen, Galilee, Light Fin­gers, Cen­tury, Ton­to­nan, Leica Show, Leica Lover, Dayana, Taj Rossi, Leilani, Think Big, Lord Dud­ley, Maybe Ma­hal, Cap D’An­tibes, Ming Dy­nasty, Hyperno, Luskin Star, Best Western, Cam­paign King, Beau Zam, Shaftes­bury Av­enue, Let’s Elope, Saintly, Dane Rip­per, Viewed, So You Think.

I tried many times to get Bart to rate his cham­pi­ons, but he was al­ways re­luc­tant to do so.

“They have all been pretty good horses and their own­ers are good friends of mine so I wouldn’t want to rate one over the other,’’ he once said.

He even­tu­ally con­ceded that Galilee, Saintly and So You Think ( rid­den to a 2009 Cox Plate win by Glen Boss, pic­tured be­low left) were the pick of the champs. The only train­ers with com­pa­ra­ble records to Cum­mings were his late, great ri­vals Tommy Smith and Colin Hayes. When I once asked Bart about Smith and Hayes, he re­called them with hu­mour and rev­er­ence.

“Tommy Smith was a good com­peti­tor ... al­ways a con­stant ir­ri­ta­tion though. Colin Hayes was the same – to a lesser de­gree,’’ he laugh­ingly replied.

Cum­mings al­ways said train­ing race­horses was “a way of life” – and what a life it was.

In one of my last in­ter­views with Cum­mings, I asked him to de­scribe him­self. The an­swer was so typ­i­cal of the man.

“I’m just an or­di­nary sort of fel­low ... can train a bit though.”

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 ??  ?? CUPS KING: Trainer Bart Cum­mings with his 1996 Mel­bourne Cup win­ner Saintly; in 2010 with 12 Mel­bourne Cups; and (be­low left) with jockey Glen Boss af­ter win­ning the 2009 Cox Plate.
CUPS KING: Trainer Bart Cum­mings with his 1996 Mel­bourne Cup win­ner Saintly; in 2010 with 12 Mel­bourne Cups; and (be­low left) with jockey Glen Boss af­ter win­ning the 2009 Cox Plate.
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