Bart

My father’s generation are passing. Richie, Fos, Tommy, Gough – now Bart.

The misty heroes of my youthful field of dreams. Their first name monicker denotes love. Larger than life. Larrikin allure. Laconic lingo.

Their contemporaries and successors – TJ, CS, AB, Barass – all respected – but feared as much as loved.

Modern racing, modern sport, modern politics, modern life is a commodity. A business. A product. 24/7. On-line. On-message. And on-the-nose.

Modern sport plays out like an episode of My Restaurant Rules or the X-Factor. The plot lines and “characters” endlessly reproducible and instantly forgettable.

Racing in the 60’s and 70’s when I got hooked was like a Bogart movie. Casablanca – with its memorable male leads. Melbourne has always been the home of racing, but Adelaide and Sydney had the best horses and trainers. They came to Melbourne to pillage at Carnival time.

TJ Smith from Sydney – the Peter Lorre figure – diminutive, dapper, gimlet eyed under the pork pie hat. Charming and ruthless, still with the hint of desperation and first five bob he earned in his pocket.

CS Hayes – the Semaphore boilermaker turned gentleman breeder. The Sydney Greenstreet figure (without the girth) with the tweed jacket and patrician air.

But JB Cummings was only ever a name in a racebook. To punters and casual race fans he was always Bart. The larger than life Humphrey Bogart character that men always wanted to be like, and women always wanted to be with.

Like Rick in Casablanca, Bart always had the laconic response that hid more than it revealed.

“What brought you to Casablanca?”

“My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.”

“What waters? We’re in the desert.”

“I was misinformed.”

Bart seeming to get misty after a Cup win, when a journo asks:

“Is that a tear in your eye, is the win making you emotional?”

“Nah, I’m only tearing up because I didn’t have more on it.”

Racing in the 60’s and 70’s was ruled by the punt. The megalithic TAB and breeding industry had yet to take hold. Information was king, with touts, spivs and clockers on every corner. Beating the bookies was the game. The less you said the less they knew. Bart’s brother Pat, his consigliere, striking terror in the betting ring as he landed another plonk for the stable.

Bart came from the Irish Catholic tradition like a Spencer Tracy priest. Good in the heart; clear in the eye; but always hungry and looking for the next earn.

He specialised in the big raw Oncidium and Sobig stayers from New Zealand. Brought along patiently for a late season Adelaide Derby only if they were early comers. Never pushed as 2 or early 3 year olds. Coming into their own at 4 or 5.

Bart pioneered the “miles in the legs” Cup campaign that the Freedmans emulated with Doriemus and Makybe Diva in later years. Run them around for practice on Derby day, just to top them off for the Cup. Bart got his stayers fit on the racetrack, unlike the European methods now in vogue where the long, hard work is done away from the public eye on the training track.

And maybe that is what endeared Bart and that generation of horsemen. They were a constant presence in our lives. Their horses unfolding before us like the Raymond Chandler novels that Bogie specialised in portraying. There was always a comer, a gunna, and a dark heroine that stole our heart at the picture’s end.

Because if Bart was best known in the public eye for his tough staying geldings, it was the sprinting mares that seemed his darlings. Storm Queen winning a Slipper in the 60’s to put Bart on the map in Sydney. Maybe Mahal the seven times Group 1 winning mare of the 70’s that tore down the Flemington straight to win dual Lightnings, a Newmarket and a Craven A (Salinger champagne took over from the humble fag for the carnival marketers). Bart’s genius stretched her to a mile to win a Doncaster up the tough Randwick rise.

And Leilani, Bart’s champion mare of the 70’s, who he always said reminded him of his foundation darling Light Fingers. Leilani was raced by the Sunlamp Kid, Andrew Peacock. Remember when politicians had personalities not personas? Leilani the champion miler that Bart stretched into a stayer, only to be nosed out by one of Bart’s raw-boned geldings, Think Big, in the ’74 Cup.

Bart moved with the times and took his blows. Sharemarket syndication of a racing and breeding enterprise just before the ’87 stockmarket crash would have broken a lesser man. Saintly and So You Think were late career champions. But somehow Bart seemed in these times, not of these times.

Chesty Bond with a trench coat and binoculars. Swept back Brylcreemed jet black hair. A little dab’ll do ya. A little Ming Dynasty grey creeping in by the 80’s when Freedman and Mayfield Smith had started to break the dominance of the Big Three. (Eras always have three – Nicklaus, Palmer and Player – Barassi, Whitten and Skilton).

A raise of Bart’s eyebrow said more than a hundred post-race interviews do today. The knowing smile as his stayer lengthened out for fifth in the last furlong of a Cup lead up.

Like Bogie at the end of Casablanca, Bart won our hearts even when he lost the fight or we lost on the punt. There was something nobler in the pursuit than the attainment.

Victor Lazlo got back to France to lead the resistance. Bart found new ways to keep avoiding the Gestapo of advancing years and soulless corporates. We eventually learned that punting was a mug’s game.

But still we always yearn to be Bart, and know that longing backward glance from Ingrid Bergman (or any other pretty filly).

Vale Bart.

 

 

Next: Old Dog Matt Zurbo on persistence, talent, hard work and fate after Daniel Menzel’s four goal haul for the Cats against Geelong on Friday night.

 

Comments

  1. Thanks Peter. Yes, Bart was much more than just the Cups King. Lots of sporting figures seem to be “larger than life”. For so many reasons, Bart sits atop them all.
    Farewell to a true legend.

  2. cowshedend says:

    Great tribute Peter, his legacy is not merely his list of equine champions, but the cavalcade of horesman who have worked for him, Corstens, Wheeler, Blackiston, O’Shea, Kavanagh, and many more including thelate great Guy Walter, supposedly not the easiest bloke to work for, yet all these blokes waxed lyrical of the mans knowledge.
    Prior to Saintly Lodge closing, I used to wander up to take the dog for an amble around Flemington, used to always see half a dozen of his horses having a free pick in the enclosure opposite the Bagot car park, to see those faded green an gold rugs would always give you a warm feeling.
    Vale JBC

  3. well written Peter, with an eloquent use of words and imagery to evoke memories of this great figure from the world of equine contests. Vale Bart.

    Glen!

  4. Lucky Harms appointed me the Almanac racing correspondent for a day. I don’t have to write about footy today.

  5. Peter- Thanks for that. Wonderfully evocative tribute. Spring begins without its major figure. Who’ll provide the wit and wisdom?

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    Peter, too many good uns have left us in recent years. i really felt Tommy hafey’s passing.

    Favourite Bart quote: ‘If the jockey does what I tell him, he gets the ride. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t’.

  7. Your best piece (I reckon).

  8. With John on this; thanks for the article Peter. At least your lot are still in the running and you may be able to write a better news football story next week.

    Have to agree with sporting luminaries moving on, can’t keep up. I spose we miss them more when the “season” rolls in.

    For a good read, “My Life” (all about JBC) is a ripper.

  9. Masterful PB. Terrific read. I saw an old interview with Bart who was asked what was needed to win The Cup.

    “A good horse that can stay 2 mile.” was the answer. Brilliant.

  10. Superb portrait of Bart

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Love the ‘Casablanca’ analogy PB. Have never been much of a punter, but Bart always seemed present from mid October to mid November through most of my life. I was there as a kid in’74 when Think Big won the first of two and remember feeling aggrieved when my 50 cents each way was put on Reckless instead of Gold and Black in 1977. Vale Bart.

  12. Daryl Sharpen says:

    PB, great story; as usual. Did any of you folk ever meet him? I forced myself onto him at the Hobart Cup one year ; as only a Tassy could. The establishment had wheeled him out as an Ambassador as if he was ‘over it’. He trained another Melb Cup winner soon after. Remarkable man, remarkable discussion.

  13. Luke Reynolds says:

    Wonderful tribute Peter.
    What a chracter and imposing figure in Australian sport Bart was.
    I’m only an occasional punter but fondly remember backing Saintly to win the Cup while I was in High School. First decent win on the punt. Thanks Bart.

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