GOD GIVEN STRENGTH IS HELPING CUMANI
Nick Townsend talks to Luca Cumani about his star filly and his family’s exploits in the racing industry
Luca Cumani hasn’t been around quite as long as the NHS, but sometimes it appears so. Seemingly omnipresent, he has been part of the backbone of British racing since 1976, and in the intervening years the Newmarket trainer’s adventures here and abroad have secured him and his owners a multitude of Group 1s in five different countries.
And yet, ask the 69-year-old what advice he would offer the callow novice Luca Cumani if he was starting out here today, and he states unhesitatingly: “It’s much more competitive now. The best advice I would have for a young trainer is to go to Australia which is where my son (Matt) has gone.”
He adds: “The competition there is more evenly spread, the ownership of horses is more evenly spread. It isn’t as polarised as it is here. Here, the power is basically in the hands of some Arabs and Coolmore and, unless you’re in there, with them, it’s hard.”
Cumani is well qualified to make such a judgement. He speaks with the authority of a man who, very publicly, suffered the removal of 35 of his horses – including the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes victor Postponed – by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid in 2015.
It was a chastening episode – one he once wryly described as Obexit – for the Italian-born trainer and life has certainly changed for him since the days of his Derby winners Kahyasi (1988) and High-Rise (1998), Barathea’s superb 1994 Breeders’ Cup Mile triumph and the five Group 1s Falbrav won in 2003, including in the Eclipse Stakes.
Yet, three years on, Cumani resembles a pugilist who, having clambered off the ropes, has spat out some loosened teeth, and is relishing the challenges that 2015 reverse produced.
True, his own website refers to a quiet start to the season. “I’m very much down on the number of horses,” he explains. “Throughout my career, I’ve always had more than 100 horses and now I’m down to 50.” As for future plans, he insists: “I’m not one for looking too far ahead. I’m here, and as long as people give me horses, I will train.”
Since the Sheikh’s action, which provoked much conjecture, and sympathy for Cumani, the trainer has continued to amass Group and listed winners, most latterly from God Given, his representative in today’s Group 2 bet365 Lancashire Oaks at Haydock where she is twice a course winner already, though only once on good to firm – when victorious in her last run here in last month’s Group 3 Betway Pinnacle Stakes. Her three-timer (at Haydock, Newmarket and Deaville) last year was achieved on soft going.
“She’s an intended runner, provided the ground isn’t too firm and I’m relying on Mr Tellwright (Kirkland Tellwright, Haydock clerk of the course),” says Cumani, referring to the watering of the track that he hopes will ease the ground. He adds: “Her preferred surface is a bit of give. She got away with it in the Pinnacle, but I’m not sure she’d get away with it in a race like the Lancashire Oaks.”
The four-year-old daughter of Nathaniel is also entered for the Group 2 Qatar Lillie Langtree Stakes at Goodwood and the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Cup at York, with her trainer, who won today’s race in 2013 with Emirates Queen: commenting: “The Lillie Langtry at Goodwood is over 1m 6f. I’m sure she’ll get the trip. York is a step up, but should she win a Group 2, then obviously the next thing for consideration would be a Group 1. She normally improves with her racing because she’s a big filly. We’re happy where we are with her.”
Coincidentally, the ownerbreeders of God Given are St Albans Bloodstock, who bred Postponed, to whom the filly is a halfsister.
There has never been any doubting Cumani’s own pedigree, nor his route to the zenith of his profession. The Milanborn son of champion amateur jockey Elena and champion trainer
Sergio Cumani travelled to the
UK and became
Sir Henry Cecil’s assistant before setting up at Bedford House.
From that base, he has become a globetrotter to compete with the towering basketball men from Harlem. “I think it’s a trend that’s going to increase, as well,” he says. “I might have been one of the pioneers, mainly because I enjoyed going abroad and seeing how things are done in different jurisdictions. You can always learn something from wherever you travel. But secondly because the prizemoney in most of the places where you can race is ten times bigger than ours.
“If you have a chance it’s good to (explore foreign opportunities) because one of the responsibilities of a trainer is also to make the owners last as long as possible without sending them broke!” He jests, of course, typical of this urbane, thoughtful character.
It was one such journey, on his first trip to Australia in 2007, when his father’s Purple Moon was runner-up in the Melbourne Cup, that inspired his son Matt to seek out a new life as a trainer in Australia – something of a contrast to working in the financial world and also in the office of then Conservative leader Michael Howard which he did before the 2005 election.
Cumani Jnr now trains at Ballarat, around 75 miles from Melbourne and, while it is tempting to suggest that he will eventually succeed his father at Bedford House, Cumani Snr maintains:
“He’s very happy there, having quite a lot of winners, and has married an Australian. They’re expecting their first child, and he is very happy and settled. He’s got about 100 horses, so all is good.”
Cumani’s daughter Fransesca, below left, married to Rob Archibald, a former Australian international polo player, with whom she has a son, Harry, still rides out for the family firm having been an amateur rider who twice won the Queen Mother Cup at York, a race also won by her mother Sara.
However, she is best known on as a key component of ITV racing coverage.
“She’s doing I think an excellent job,” says her father. “Hopefully, it’s not just what I feel, but what everybody else tells me. She thoroughly enjoys it and I must say the ITV coverage is very good. All the participants are excellent.”
You suggest that she could not be better prepared for the task of helping to demystify the sport, having spent much of her life within an elite training establishment. “Definitely,” he says. “And also having her mother’s good looks helps…”
“Throughout my career, I’ve always had more than 100 horses and now I’m down to 50. I’m here and as long as people give me horses”
“Francesca’s doing an excellent job. It’s not just what I feel, but what everybody else tells me.”
Newmarket maestro: Luca Cumani