BART: THE END OF ONE OF RACING’S GREATEST ERAS
Could there ever be sufficient superlatives to adequately describe the extraordinary life and achievements of James Bartholomew Cummings?
Twelve victories in Australia’s greatest iconic race – the Melbourne Cup- standing out like a beacon in a career littered with glory, encompassing 268 Group One wins, 32 Derbies, 24 Oaks, 7 Caulfield Cups, 5 Cox Plates and Doncaster Handicaps and 13 Australian Cups. Does it get any better than that at the elite level of horse racing?
Bart Cummings made the Melbourne Cup his own, and in the modern era, “the Cup” and the “Cups King” were inseparable. Fittingly, just as the “race that stops a nation” does so each year on the first Tuesday in November, last Sunday and into the week, the nation stopped to pay its own tributes and respects to Bart Cummings.
An Australian Racing and Sporting Hall of Famer and Legend, there weren’t many sportsmen and women who could be comfortably spoken of in the same exalted terms. Perhaps only Bradman. Like Bradman, Bart Cummings did not need to rewrite any record books. He created a record book of his own. One that could not only stand on its own, but be the yardstick for judging greatness in racing. If there was only one Don Bradman, one Phar Lap, one Black Caviar, there certainly was only one Bart Cummings.
But Bart Cummings left a far greater legacy for racing. Always the consummate professional, he also had a wonderful wit. Almost wicked and with a glint in his eye, he famously wrong footed many with his quick fire ad libs and repartee which transcended age demographics and gender and was delivered with style that is rarely seen these days amongst his fellow trainers.
He never suffered fools gladly and had an uncanny instinct for seeing through the conga line of backslapping wealthy and well to do owners and breeders and racing administrators who would gravitate towards the great man and clamour to be part of the inner circle.
Racing has a rich history. It has been immensely fortunate to have Bart Cummings as part of its rich heritage.
Yes, there was only one Bart Cummings.
WALLER’S FIRST ELEVEN MIRRORS NSW RACING’S PROBLEMS
The Group Two Chelmsford Stakes has always been an important black type race chosen by trainers as an early tune-up race in a horse’s spring preparation. This Saturday’s Chelmsford is no different, with a field of 17 final acceptors – a rarity for Saturday metropolitan racing in NSW.
But while the ATC and Racing NSW will be high fiving each other at this rare phenomenon, the Chelmsford has again reignited the disenchantment felt by so many in NSW with the state of the racing industry and the downward slope which NSW racing is heading on with a full head of steam.
Chris Waller, Sydney’s premier trainer has gang tackled the Chelmsford with his very own cricket team. His first eleven of Kermadec, Royal Descent, Who Shot The Barman, Junoob, Grand Marshal, Opinion, Moriarty, Hawkspur, Preferment, I’m Imposing and Beaten Up, could very well have performed better in an equine ashes series than the Aussie cricket team did in forfeiting cricket’s holy grail to the Poms.
Light heartedness aside, the makeup of the Chelmsford is an indictment on Sydney racing. Not in any way could the quality of the field be questioned. But clearly, the elitist model which has been allowed to develop is strangling NSW racing. It has lost its vibrance, and despite the unlimited reams of spin continually coming out of Druitt Street, NSW racing is a “little boy and little girl lost” in the big city that is Sydney.
NSW racing’s downward slide is unforgivable, given the warning bells which have been ringing loudly and sounding the alarm about the decline and demise of racing in the UK and the US, and in so many other parts of Europe where racing is hanging on by the proverbial thread, having chosen to return to the past when it was famously known as the sport of kings.
Trouble is there aren’t too many kings and monarchs of either gender left anywhere in the world these days, being replaced in many instances by a bunch of weapon wielding despots. Perhaps that’s the attraction for some of the NSW heavyweights seduced by the immense power and authority that can be wielded by small cliques and elites who can control the flow of information and propaganda and bully and intimidate and crush opponents into submission.
Racing, and particularly NSW racing, can no longer choose to ignore the well articulated views of Noel Martin, the first ‘black’ owner to win a race at Royal Ascot, so brilliantly diagnosing the state of health of the racing industry, and quoted in the ‘Black and White’ issue of RacingB*tch yesterday: “Racing isn’t just about the big people. If the poor people weren’t gambling and trying to get rich, it would all fall down. There are a lot of people who would like to be there, but they don’t feel welcome”.
This disconnect, so evident in the UK and the US, is on Australia’s doorstep in NSW, where the breeding elites control decision making, and where their business models are predicated on the intertwined cycle of outrageously obscene stallion syndications and service fees, sales ring prices which are often manipulated, excessive and discriminatory prize money at the top end, which together make the costs of racehorse ownership completely out of reach of the medium to small owner. Noel Martin is spot on. This racehorse owning demographic is not made welcome. Not anymore.
It is the fundamental reason why last weekend, at Rosehill, the first five races on the eight race card had less than eight starters. And pumping prize money up to $100,000 won’t make one skerrick of difference to Sydney Saturday or mid-week metropolitan field sizes over the racing season. Nor will it increase the pool of racehorse owners in NSW. Furthermore, one needs to only cast a cursory glance at the ownership of many of the runners engaged at the Sydney metropolitan meetings and it is the same coterie of usual suspects at the top end of the socio-economic spectrum. Just take a look at the ownership of the Waller first eleven. Same names, same “Big People”. Do the same with a race card in Melbourne and the difference is stark. Is it surprising that Melbourne has full fields and frequently runs nine and ten race cards?
Sure racing needs the big end of town to continue to pump millions of dollars into ownership, but it fundamentally needs the middle and lower layer of racehorse owing demographic. It cannot afford to discriminate – directly or indirectly in favour of the “big people”.
NSW racing has got it hopelessly wrong. And it won’t change until the model, which is so hopelessly broken, is fixed.
Could one of his few remaining mates in the Melbourne training fraternity give Peter Moody a cuddle? His latest dummy spit by refusing to be interviewed by the media and his continuing childish attempts to publicly play the victim over his cobalt positive, indicates convincingly that he either needs a crisis management advisor or that he should sack whoever is advising him. Playing the blame game and whingeing and whining and playing the victim and martyr only get you so far. Time to put a tongue tie on, Pete, and take off for the warmer waters of the Mediterranean again. Except this time please take your swimming trunks with you, Pete. Puhleeese!
Max Presnell exposed the shallowness of the much trumpeted ATC announcement unnecessarily pumping $1.725 million into Spring group race carnival prize money linked with the 10% reduction in track fees. Puhleeaze!!!! Quoting a reader of the Sydney Morning Herald, an accountant who has clearly done his sums, the average saving for each of the 1700 horses on the ATC books at its three tracks is $226.30 per horse per year! That’s right, $226.30 per horse per year. Embarrassing, isn’t it? Less than $20 a month!!! And yes, such are the decisions we have come to expect from the decision makers in NSW racing. “Compared to the reduction of track fees to all owners to the increase in prize money to 11 Group One races it is easy to see why people lose enthusiasm for owning a racehorse”, Presnell quotes his accountant reader. Isn’t it time the NSW owners, trainers, and for that matter ALL industry stakeholders knocked on Troy Grant’s door and demanded an overhaul of a structure that is broken beyond rescue?
Still the talk in NSW racing circles is the inaction by racing officialdom and the State Government over the activities of a certain individual, which has been the subject of rampant speculation over the past several months. Perhaps he knows “where the bodies are buried”?
All eyes will be on Kris Lees this spring as he attempts to bring last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist back to the dominant form which won him the Melbourne Cup in sensational style last year. Lees is one of NSW’s best trainers and if anyone can bring Protectionist back to his best on an Australian preparation, then Kris almost certainly can.
So Randwick’s Kensington track is on its last chance to prove itself as a viable second city track to take some of the load off the struggling metropolitan Sydney tracks. The Kensington track has had more than the proverbial nine lives of a cat to prove itself and has failed miserably each time the blow torch has been applied. Yet again, the posturing by the ATC is simply delaying the inevitable. The surface needs to be ripped up completely and a new track installed.