Bart Cummings: died aged 87 surrounded by family at his rural property
PICTURE: Getty Images
Australia: 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.
Such was Cummings’ stature, the NSW government says it is considering a state funeral for the legendary trainer who died in the early hours of Sunday morning and the prime minister Tony Abbott is among those to acknowledge his passing.
“Australia has lost a sporting giant and a racing legend,” Abbott said in a statement.
“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 $22 million 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 in a statement on Sunday.
Revered by jockeys
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.”
Legacy lives on
So You Think was sold to Coolmore and sent to Ireland where he was trained by Aidan O’Brien, that irked Cummings who took a while to get over it.
He did get over it, but as his 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 who he met at a church social in 1953.
The Cummings legacy will live on. His son Anthony is the only one of his five children to follow him into racing as a trainer.
James is Anthony’s son and his other son Edward works alongside his father at Randwick.
The Melbourne Cup nominations come out this week and among them will be Cummings stable favourite, veteran Precedence, who has already run in four with a best-placed sixth last year.
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