By Sam Duncan

It is a widely known fact among those who knows me that I love Bart.

Rarely is there a horse in the Spring, trained by JB, who I’m not on.  I was on Bart when I was eight years old, sitting on my Grandmother’s knee cheering home Let’s Elope to victory in the 1991 Melbourne Cup.  I liked everything about the horse.  I liked the name.  I liked the green and gold silks, and the trainer – a roundish, silver haired genius, with the most famous eyebrows in Australia – fascinated me.  That year, he finished first and second, with second protesting against first, but no matter what, Bart couldn’t lose.

So, I’ve followed him ever since.  I was back on him when Saintly won Bart’s second Cox Plate and then again when he bought home the bacon on Cup Day two weeks later.  I was on again the following year, when he somehow won a third Cox Plate with a 40/1 chance, Dane Ripper.  Two years later I celebrated Bart’s eleventh Melbourne Cup when Rogan Josh saluted and then, just when I almost thought the best of Bart might’ve been behind us, I cartwheeled down the straight at Berrigan when his 80/1 chance, Sirmione triumphed in the Mackinnon Stakes on Derby Day.

A year later I stood on the finishing line at Flemington, gobsmacked when Viewed held on to win the Cup by a lip at 44/1 and then a year later,  I couldn’t stop winning as he unleashed Viewed again in the Caulfield Cup, So You Think in the Cox Plate and Faint Perfume in the Oaks.

Sometimes in sport, characters become so big, their records so imposing, their faces so recognisable that they almost become the sport – as though you can’t have one without the other.  They appear as if they are something more, something better than the rest of us.  Journalists follow them, television cameras shine in their face, microphones are thrust in front of their mouths, quotes are sought after and sentences are dissected.  This happens every year with Bart.  His name is so recognisable that his surname is optional.  Bart, in Melbourne’s spring, is followed, quoted, interviewed and talked about as much as anyone.  And, he’s 83.  That’s no small thing. In a technological world where young people seem to rule, Bart is bucking the trend.

In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s Bart had hit 60 and was at the top of his game.  He had won more Melbourne Cups than any of his rivals and after decades of hard work was well within his rights to retire.  Then, he went broke.  After setting up the ‘Cups King Syndicate’ and spending his wealth on horses for others to buy into, the economy went bust and Bart was left with nothing.  In the flick of a switch Bart had gone from the very top of his game, to somewhere lower than the very bottom.  He had to sell all the horses he’d purchased for next to nothing and then battle on to pay off his creditors.  For every win he had, he had to pay 75% to his creditors until he was debt free.  It was a devastating, humbling and humiliating experience that would’ve broken many a man.

And yet those who worked  with him say he never changed.  In the early ‘90’s until Saintly came along in ’96, many within the Cummings stable wondered if they’d ever see another winner again.  Except Bart, who knew he’d get through.  Apparently while others within his stable would be scratching their heads wondering where their next winner would come from, Bart kept doing what he’d always done – with the same training patterns and the same formulas until his horses started winning again.  His wife, Val, said that she had no idea how bad the situation was, because every day Bart would leave when it was dark and come home when the sun was setting, and although winners were scarce and money even more so, he’d walk through the door and say ‘g’day love, that smells great.  What’s for dinner.’

It took Bart many years – well into his 70’s – to pay back his creditors.  He says in his book that it was one of his great achievements.  To get to the top, stare adversity in the face, to be knocked out by it, start all over again and beat it, to me, must be 12 Melbourne Cups rolled into one.

This year was a special Melbourne Carnival.  Bart looked thin, brittle and more vulnerable than ever before.  He’d been in hospital twice throughout the year and was back in just before the Melbourne Cup.  For the first time, possibly ever, Bart looked old – like he wouldn’t be around for much longer at all.  But, once again, he was the talk of the town and so too was his horse.  So You Think finished his rivals in the Cox Plate with two furlongs to go.  He’d broken the hearts of those that were in front of him before the 600 and those behind him had no chance of catching him.  Bart, at 83, wandered down to the winner’s circle with So You Think’s Owner, Dato Tan Chin Nam, also 83, and while the two old men of horse racing smiled and chatted away, all the young people who usually think they know everything took photos of them.

Bart wasn’t able to win the Melbourne Cup this year, but as always, I had money riding on his two hopes.  So You Think started a ridiculously short price favourite, something that didn’t faze the horse or his trainer.  Apparently Bart watched the Melbourne Cup on the smallest TV at the Flemington track and when the race was over, he didn’t know who’d won the race – only that his horse had finished a gallant third.  When asked how he felt about not winning the Cup he said simply, “A lot of people make out that I win this race every year, but I’ve lost a hell of a lot more Melbourne Cups than I’ve won.  It’s one of the hardest races to win in the world.”

He’s right, of course – it is damn hard to win the Melbourne Cup.  And Bart’s won 12 of them.  Just like his age, that is no small thing.

About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!


  1. Well said Sam, Bart is the ‘bradman of horse racing’

    Let’s hope his grandson in Sydney asks many more questions from his grandad.

    ‘Bushy’ will there again next year and then some.

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