LEGENDARY Australian racehorse trainer Bart Cummings was remembered as a man who didn’t know the definition of no and treated the common man as same as the Prime Minister, during his state funeral in Sydney on Monday.
Hundreds of people crammed into St Mary’s Cathedral to farewell the 12-time Melbourne Cup winner, who died at his homestead on the north-west outskirts of Sydney last Sunday. He was 87.
Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove, along with NSW Premier Mike Baird and wife Kerryn, led dignitaries including NSW Governor David Hurley, NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley and Federal Minister for Sport Sussan Ley at the service.
Cummings’ wife, Valmae, who he shared his 61st anniversary with just two days before his death, was flanked by children, Margaret, Anthony, Sharon and Annemarie, as the racing industry flocked to farewell their most endearing figure. The couple’s other son John has already passed away.
Cummings’ great granddaughter, Adeline, born only two months before his death, was cradled by the master’s grandson and training partner in latter years, James, and his wife, Monica Barrera-Cummings.
An emotional Anthony Cummings, a successful trainer in his own right, choked back tears during his eulogy as he spoke of living in “awe” of his father, who holds the record for preparing the most Melbourne Cup winners, with 12 spanning over 43 years. The second most successful trainer has five wins.
“I was always in awe of my father as people came to him for advice,” Cummings said. ”And they always got what they asked for – his view, unabashed, unequivocal.
“One of his favourite sayings was that there was no such word as no. His foresight for what became his industry, thoroughbred racing, has been uncannily accurate.”
Cummings said his father only ever wanted to own his own farm, which encompassed a little bit of everything after settling down at Castlereagh’s Princes Farm later in life.
He also told how he got to know his father on trips where they scoured New Zealand for their next champion racehorse in preparation for yearling sales and said his father, famous for his lack of emotion and witty one-liners, gave him his blessing late in his life.
“I don’t think I had a blue with him over the last couple of years, and at one time, he even told me I’d come good … rare praise indeed,” he said. “He mixed with kings, queens, prime ministers and the common man … and treated all equally and had a good time.”
The 1996 Melbourne Cup won by Saintly sat only a few feet away from Cummings’ coffin as a stark reminder of the man’s prowess with thoroughbreds.
The last four jockeys to ride Cummings’ Melbourne Cup winners – Steven King, Darren Beadman, John Marshall and Blake Shinn – were all among the mourners as racing people from across the country flocked to say farewell to the master.
Long-time family friend Malcolm Wuttke, who met Cummings on a farm in the Adelaide hills as the young horseman searched for a spelling property for his horses, told of Bart’s jovial nature and how he and Valmae treated Wuttke like family after the death of his parents.
“Bart loved and adored his children, but sometimes found this hard to express,” Wuttke said.
Cummings was made an Order of Australia in 1982 and was also elevated to Legend status in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher led the service, which finished with the bells tolling 87 times, once for each year of Cummings’ life.
– Sydney Morning Herald.