John Miller unsaddles Galilee after the 1966 Melbourne Cup.Bart Cummings dies aged 87King of the Melbourne Cup…and the one liners
As the tributes flowed for legendary racehorse trainer Bart Cummings, the 12-time Melbourne Cup-winner’s “best” jockey, former Perth rider Johnny “JJ” Miller reflected on some quiet moments of recent years spent well away from the limelight.
The story, as told by Miller himself , goes that Cummings, who died in Sydney on Sunday aged 87, was once asked to reflect on the most talented riders he’d legged up on to a horse.
Roy Higgins, Damien Oliver, Darren Beadman and Harry White were all names offered forward. But Cummings apparently was having none of it.
The best of them had been left out – Miller.
“I must have still been on his mind,” Miller recalled in an interview with Radio 6PR’s Harvey Deegan on Sunday evening.
“We had our moments but I probably got along with him better than most.”
A victorious Galilee and JJ Miller return to scale.
Cummings was famous for his distrust – at times disdain – for jockeys. But Miller helped provide him with some of his most memorable moments in racing when he rode Galilee, rated by Cummings the equal of any horse he ever trained, to wins in the 1966 Caulfield and Melbourne cups and the 1967 Sydney Cup.
Their lives took divergent paths later in life – Cummings a beloved national icon, Miller clashing with stewards as both rider and trainer – but the former jockey says they stayed in touch.
“Until he got sick I used to ring him up every second or third Sunday for a chat,” Miller recalled.
“We’d talk about politics, the share market and red wine. I said to him ‘are you still drinking that Grange?’
“He told me he’d moved on to the Henschke.”
A fine vintage himself, Cummings finished with 268 Group 1 winners in a career spanning more than six decades.
The Melbourne Cup is the race with which his name will always be most associated but Liberal Member for South Perth and long-time The West Australian racing writer John McGrath won’t forget his support of WA racing.
Indeed, it was the unfashionably WA-bred Rogan Josh who provided Cummings with his 11th Melbourne Cup win in 1999.
Bart Cummings after winning his eleventh Melbourne Cup with horse Rogan Josh. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
“I first met him when he came to Perth back in 1969 for the Perth Cup,” McGrath said.
“He loved coming to WA and the Perth Cup at $100,000 [in those days] was a very lucrative event.
“I’d also see him every year in Sydney and Melbourne for the big events. He was a practical man and I was always struck by his patience.
“Bart always like to say that patience was one the cheapest commodities around, but one that was rarely used.”
McGrath said those who did know not know him sometimes misunderstood Cummings because he rarely showed emotion.
“But that’s not to say he didn’t have a great sense of humour,” Mr McGrath said.
“A young journo once asked him whether a particular horse was going to win a race. Bart asked the reporter where he had heard that. The journo said it was in a newspaper.
“Bart told him ‘the only think you can believe in a newspaper, son, is the price that’s printed on the front page’.” Follow WAtoday on Twitter