Battles with Bart

Trying to thrive on the punt is one of life’s more difficult and fraught pursuits. You have to be Alan Turing to decipher the various threads of code that constitutes a form guide. In addition to making sense of the metrics, you have to understand and appreciate the language and vernacular of the punt. The complexities of punting numeracy and literacy is such that it makes Hawking’s efforts to understand the nature of black holes all seem rather ho-hum.

When it came to trying to back a winner of a big Randwick mile or a Melbourne Cup, one trainer has confounded me more than any other.


The inveterate gambler, the desperado who chases losses at Cannington dogs, the professional punter involved in myriad short-term volatile investment portfolios and the each-way-once-a-year dabbler would instantly know who is being referred to. For decades, Bart Cummings has been simply known as Bart. He sits comfortably alongside Richie, another ‘first name legend’ who recently departed us.

Like gravity, calls for last drinks and Ablett pyrotechnics, and despite never having met the Great Man (I would’ve at Flemington one day if the planets had aligned), Bart has been a universal constant. The cagey old bugger forever perturbing my neural transmitters and influencing big race punting decisions that look positively foolish in hindsight.

Ever since Dayana won a handful of derbies in 1972, from a distance I’ve been in a constant indirect battle of wits with Bart. These battles have been waged in two punting theatres. At smoke-filled TABs where blokes lose all sense of self-awareness. Behaviour manifesting itself in disturbing displays of half bum cracks and irrational hissing and cussing at TV monitors. And at racetracks where emus survey the ground and sift through rubbish bins seeking tickets of wastefulness and carelessness.

Much more often than not, Bart the master trainer comfortably had the measure of me the mug punter. To quantify the size of the defeat in racing parlance and imagery, he was like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

He confounded me so many times a verb was invented to describe it. When a Bart horse duly saluted without carrying your cash, you would say you have been Barted. We have all been Barted. I was Mega-Barted.

Bart was a genius in preparing a horse to be primed for a big race. His timing was rarely off. He was a meticulous feeder and had what they call a ‘keen’ eye for a horse. He was about conformation, walking style, shoulder and head.

In the media Bart usually mumbled. He was a master of the understatement and possessed a very keen wit. Before each economical sentence, he would invariably clear his throat and never look the interviewer in the eye. Overall, Bart’s modus operandi was to say virtually nothing. He could certainly piss around corners with the very best of them. In this day and age of more information being disseminated to industry stakeholders and punters for dissection, Bart was very much old school.

Bart was the shrewdest of the shrewds. In the words of Blackadder, Bart could hatch a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel. In preparation for a tilt at a Melbourne Cup, he’d often produce a flashing light in the LKS Mackinnon Stakes (a traditional lead up race to the Cup) on Derby Day. A horse that hadn’t so much as ejected a photon to keen form analysts in any of its lead up runs would all of a sudden improve by many lengths and work home nicely for a third or fourth placing. These became known as slashing cup trials and why he became the Cups King.

Then between Derby day and Cup day, the question(s) hits you right between the eyes. Do I back Bart’s horse in the Cup? Or which of Bart’s horses do I back in the Cup?

In the words of Meatloaf, what is it going to be boy, Bart or be Barted?

So many conversations around Melbourne Cup time would begin with one Old Mate asking another, “What do you like in the Cup?”

The reply would often be, “Geez I like that thing of Bart’s.”

I missed most of Bart’s Cup winners and certainly never came close to any of his quinellas. Saintly and Let’s Elope were the only triumphant Bart horses I backed in the Cup. I had Gold and Black in a sweep.

Bart, I’m going to miss our battles. I’m going to miss being Barted. That’s natural when you lose a life constant.

Vale Old Mate.

Read Peter Balderstone’s wonderful tribute to Bart.

Chris Riordan asks you to nominate your favourite Bart horse and your favourite Bart moment.


  1. A fine tribute, old mate.
    From one who has been barted more often than not!

  2. Muz from Queensland says

    Great yarn Flynny … I have been Barted on more times than I care to remember.

  3. If you haven’t been Barted, you’re not a serious punter.

    Great words PJF.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks Old Mates.

    He was a genius of feed, breed and steed.

    And did I ever heed?

    Not as much as I should have.

  5. Ripper old mucker. Old mate Viewed was one I got on. And I only got on it because Bart was looking particularly shrewd that year.

    I recall you being Barted at Oaks Day regularly.

  6. That’s a fine tribute Flynny.

    Interesting that both Bart and Richie were wry, understated and universally loved. In direct contrast to the din and white noise of many in contemporary Australian sport.

    Like you I wasn’t on his Cup horses often enough with only Saintly and Rogan Josh in my kick!

  7. Peter Flynn says

    Spot on observation about Richie and Bart MR.



  8. A bad Barting occurred when winning well on Stradbroke day one year. I reckon the story is told somewhere in Memoirs of a Mug Punter. Everyone was doing well. There were queues at interstate bookies as all those beautiful 13/4 and 7/2 faves kept winning. I had circled Dane Ripper in what is always a tough race to sort out. Standing there with cash in hand I thought will I, won’t I. Nah, she won’t win. 40/1. Barted in the feature race.

  9. Can’t remember what I backed in the 1991 Cup but it was travelling sweetly and well in the race when stiff-armed by the winner at the top of the straight.

    Same with Ideal Centreman in the 1989 Cup.

    Geez I’m unlucky.

  10. Wonderful stuff Flynny – found myself nodding like a desperate credit punter.

Leave a Comment