Racing Legend Bart Cummings Remembered as a Modest Man of Deep Faith

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
7 Sep 2015

The Bells of St Mary's Cathedral rang out across the city this morning tolling 87 times to mark each year of the life of Australian racing legend and Cups King, James Bartholomew "Bart" Cummings.

The bells rang as a tribute to one of Australia's legends of the turf at the close of this morning's State Funeral at St Mary's Cathedral for the iconic and much loved horse trainer.

Members of Australia's racing industry, business leaders, dignitaries, politicians, sports stars and members of the public joined with the Cummings family and his wife, Valmae of 61 years at the Cathedral this morning to pay tribute to the man who won a remarkable 12 Melbourne Cups, four Golden Slippers, 32 Derbys, 5 Cox Plates, 24 Oaks and 7 Caufield Cups.

"He was revered by Australians from the cabbies who took him to Flemington or Randwick to leaders of government and industry who wanted to be seen with him - and even I am told by that lover of horse-flesh, Her Majesty the Queen," the Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP said in his welcome to the more than 1000 who had gathered at the Cathedral for today's State Funeral.

The Archbishop spoke of the trainer's modesty and what he described as Bart's "very down-to-earth commonsensical kind of faith," and related how being asked if having his stables blessed every season by the local parish priest helped his horses, Bart dryly observed "it doesn't help if they can't gallop."

He also spoke of the loyal support given to Bart throughout his long life by his wife Valmae, and the couple's deep love of the Mass.

"They would attend Mass each Sunday at church or have a private Mass said for them at their home at Princes Farm," the Archbishop said and revealed that Bart had been a generous and long time supporter of the Matthew Talbot Hostel for homeless men, and how the horse trainer had been very much aware of how fortune and circumstance can change peoples lives for good or ill.

Among the dignitaries at today's State Funeral were the Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove, the Governor of NSW, General David Hurley and his wife, Linda Hurley, NSW Premier Mike Baird and his wife, Kerryn Baird and NSW Leader of the Opposition, Luke Foley.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott was represented at the State Funeral by the Federal Minister for Health and Sport, Sussan Ley. Also there was the former Premier of NSW, Barry Unsworth and jockeys Darren Beadman, John Marshall, JJ Miller and Blake Shinn, all of whom rode Melbourne Cup winners for Bart.

Massive bowls of gold and yellow roses flanked the coffin. Beside the coffin was the 10th Melbourne Cup won by Bart and his horse, Saintly.

But for all the pomp and circumstance, today's service had a special warmth and intimacy, and was filled with fond and often hilarious anecdotes.

Eulogies were given by Bart's son, Anthony, who is a respected and successful trainer in his own right, Bart's close friend of more than 50 years, Malcolm Wuttke and racing journalist and friend, Tony Arrold.

Anthony spoke of the gap his father's passing has left in the racing industry which he said will never be filled. While Bart meant different things to different people, to Anthony he was "a teacher, guide, quiz master, sometime policeman and ever present."

"He left school at 14 but understood language and people better than most graduates," he said and recalled growing up, the stables had been his playground.

Despite his father's successes, Anthony says to the family "dad was just dad" and recounted his visit to New Zealand as a teenager, accompanying his father on Bart's annual trip to examine the yearlings coming up for sale. He also told an hilarious anecdote of the time his father always keen to improve his knowledge of horses, had stayed by the hospital bed of Percy Sykes, trainer Tommy Smith's vet,  a world authority on horse health and nutrition.

Bart waited patiently for Percy to wake and as soon as he did, quizzed him about proteins, vitamins and what grains were best. The vet soon found out it wasn't his health but the health of his horses Bart was concerned about.

The eulogy by the Malcolm Wuttke was also filled with fond memories of Bart from the time he was a young man and these too brought gales of laughter such as the time the pair saw what they thought was their flight about to take off and had raced up the stairs and knocked on the door.  The startled flight attendant had let them in as the stairs where wheeled away. But when Bart apologised for being late and thanked her, and told her he'd been worried they'd miss their flight to Adelaide, the flight attended pointed out the that the flight was not going to Adelaide but to Perth.

Looking back over his long friendship with Bart, he said: "I enjoyed every second of it. We had a lot of fun."

Racing journalist Tony Arrold also had special memories of Bart dating back to 1976 when Tony had joined the staff of The Australian as an eager but very green young journalist, and had been befriended by Bart.

In his homily Father Adrian Meaney msc who was also a friend of the family spoke of Bart as a "truly remarkable Australian" who was not only an exceptional horse trainer but a modest gentleman, loving husband and a proud father, grandfather and great grandfather.

"He was also a Catholic who had prepared himself well for his moment of death", he said.

Fr Meaney described Bart's 61 year marriage to Valmae as one of the great achievements of his life, and spoke of how they had met while attending a Catholic youth group in Adelaide.

He also spoke of how Bart and Valmae had both expressed great delight in Pope Francis and how they loved his teachings on our need to be careful of Mother Earth and the respect we owe to animals. He also revealed that in the Cummings' home at Princes Park among the display cabinets and shelves filled with trophies, medals and certificates, was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Fortunately his legacy is in safe hands as members of his family, with his blessing, have already stepped into his shoes," he said.