OBITUARY: The King is dead
JAMES ‘BART’ CUMMINGS
AS the racing industry mourns one of its own, the broader community is also coming to terms with the loss of Bart Cummings who has died aged 87.
While many people can’t name the latest premiership winning trainers, Bart Cummings is etched in Australian folklore because of his association with the Melbourne Cup, known as the race that stops the nation on the first Tuesday in November.
Cummings won 12. To put that in perspective, Lee Freedman has won five and with the influx of international horses now targeting the race, his chances of another seven are remote.
The champion trainer’s family have accepted the NSW government’s offer of a state funeral.
Cummings died in the early hours of Sunday morning and Prime Minister Tony Abbott is among those to acknowledge his passing.
‘‘Australia has lost a sporting giant and a racing legend,’’ Mr Abbott said. ‘‘Few people have dominated a sport like Bart Cummings did.
‘‘Race day will not be the same without him.’’
The Cups aside, Cummings won another 256 group one races, the last two in partnership with his grandson James.
Only the late TJ Smith with 279 won more and along with Cummings and the late CS Hayes, was an inaugural inductee to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.
The three were adversaries in a time when racing was a people’s sport and crowds flocked to the tracks. Cummings had already trained eight Cup winners when his stable crashed along with the stock market in 1989.
He had entered into a handshake agreement with a group of financiers to form the Cups King syndicate, and after shelling out $22million on yearlings, Cummings was left with the lot.
With the support of his long-time friend, four-time Melbourne Cup winning owner, Malaysian businessman Dato Tan Chin Nam, he avoided bankruptcy and managed to keep his property, Princes Farm, where he died surrounded by his family.
‘‘He has done more than enough for me in his life. We have had our differences but at the end of the day bygones are bygones. A friend in need is a friend indeed and Bart Cummings is a great mate of mine,’’ Dato Tan said on Sunday.
Cummings was revered by the jockeys who rode for him and those who wished they had, and had the respect of the trainers he competed against.
Glen Boss rode many times for Cummings, most notably on the horse many consider his best, So You Think who did not win a Melbourne Cup.
He did win two Cox Plates, the first in 2009 with Boss aboard.
‘‘You treated him with so much respect because he’s an icon. He’s our Donald Bradman of our sport,’’ Boss said. ‘‘There’s no greater icon that I’ve ever seen. TJ’s up there, but what he has done – you look at his record and scratch your head and you can’t get your brain around what he has actually done.’’
A 20-year-old Blake Shinn rode Cummings’ last Cup winner, Viewed, in 2008 when the Dato Tan-owned horse held off the challenge of Bauer by a nose.
‘‘As a young kid on the big stage – looking back – all you need is confidence to do the job and that’s what he gave me,’’ Shinn said.
‘‘He said ‘son go and enjoy the moment. Put him in a good spot and if he’s good enough he’ll do the job’ and we got the job done.’’
As Cummings health declined, he took a backward step from the day-to-day running of the stable and spent most of his time at Princes Farm on the north-western outskirts of Sydney.
Last Friday marked the 61st wedding anniversary of Cummings and his wife Valmae. AAP
IF a 16-year-old Bart Cummings had taken medical advice to combat the chronic asthma that plagued him, the history of Australian racing would be different and so much poorer.
Cummings was given a simple cure for the chronic condition he had suffered all his life.
“It’s easy, stay away from horses and chaff,” his doctor told him.
It wasn’t easy, it was impossible and Cummings immediately hightailed it back to his father Jim’s stable to feed the horses.
Seven decades and 12 Melbourne Cups later, Cummings is firmly entrenched in Australian folklore as the Cups King. But he was anything but a once-a-year trainer and his record of 268 group-1 victories has only been bettered by the late T.J. Smith with 279.
“I don’t keep records,” Cummings once said. “That may sound strange but I never look back, I only look ahead. You can’t dwell on the past. Racing goes on and you have to go with it.”
So what were his secrets?
The training regime? “A good horse will win the race you train him for,” was the reply.
Is it in the feed? “I like to feed horses as much as they will eat.”
Cummings was famous for his one-liners, his sardonic grin and the sparkle in the eyes beneath a pretty impressive set of eyebrows.
But he never uttered a word without thinking, never smiled without reason and what those twinkling eyes saw set him apart from everyone else.
That Cummings remained in the game as long as he did was testament to his steely determination and resolve to pick himself up after adversity.
“All trainers, no matter how good, go through a battling stage,” he reflected.
“It’s just a matter of having the determination to go on and I hoped the breaks would not be long in coming.” AAP
A great sadness clouds over the Industry with the news of Bart Cummings’ passing.The Cups King’s legacy remembered – past, present & future.
So sad to learn of the death of Bart Cummings, legend of the track and giant of the sport.
– Tony Abbott
You’d swear Bart Cummings was part horse with his ability to develop a winner. Was comfortable in a bush pub or with the Queen. #legend #rip
– Kurt Fearnley
Very sad to hear the passing of legendary racehorse trainer Bart Cummings. One of the greats!! #cupsking
– David Warner
Australian sport has lost its grandfather in the passing of Bart Cummings. Genius and legend so easily fit #RIPBart
Sombre day with the MASTER of our sport sadly passing away. Forever grateful & thanks for the memories JBC #RIPBart