James Cummings has just won his first Victoria Derby — and the eighth, no less, for his family — but instead of immediately speaking to Channel 7 like other trainers he decides to do something not often seen at Flemington.
He does a runner.
Dressed in grey suit and black tie, he rushes out of the weigh room, through the gauntlet of reporters and photographers and cameramen and even the great Bruce McAvaney, out into the middle of the mounting yard.
He punches the air in jubilation and keeps running, out under the famous arch and further down the chute.
He is waiting for his colt Prized Icon and his jockey, Glyn Schofield, after their commanding win in the headline race that four generations of Cummings have now won.
Cummings’s great grandfather, Jim, took out a trainer’s license with the South Australian Jockey Club in 1911. He won the Victoria Derby (2500m) with Comic Court in 1948, and then the Melbourne Cup with the same horse two years later.
Jim’s son Bart — you may have heard of him — was the horse’s strapper. Bart went on to win the derby five times between 1972 and 1987. In 2012, Bart’s son and James’ father, Anthony, won the race with Fiveandahalfstar.
“I get a lot of confidence from the fact my grandfather started training horses in 1911,” said James when he eventually returned to the yard.
“So the hundred years of horse racing excellence in the family, that knowledge gives us confidence. There are times when it wanes, and times like Moonee Valley last week [when he finished fifth in the Moonee Valley Vase]. This man [Schofield] gave me confidence to back this horse up.”
There has been so much respect for Bart over the years that none of the Cummings clan will ever talk about walking in the long shadows he continues to cast by the man.
They don’t have to mention it but others do.
Scratch beneath the glamorous veneer of racing and you will find plenty of knockers. When James joined his grandfather in a training partnership three years ago, some were doubtful that he would ever make it.
Being the son or grandson of Bart Cummings is akin to following Bradman in to bat. Just as a famous surname can open doors, it can also be a burden. Two years ago, in an interview, I asked James if it was.
“I would say no,” he said, “but I would say it without being dismissive of the threat or the concept of that being the case I say it because I’ve identified that I am my own biggest critic. I’m blessed.
“It’s not only in my blood but I’ve grown up with it. I’ve learnt as much as I can through osmosis and experience, but my family has been passionate about training horses since 1911. We’re about treating horses well. If we look after our horses well, they’ll look after us. We live by that mantra.”
The mounting yard on Derby Day is such a moshpit it’s little wonder Cummings wanted to do a runner to soak it all up.
Earlier, a film crew and actor-turned-director Rachel Griffiths went completely unnoticed as they filmed a scene for a movie on jockey Michelle Payne’s fairytale win in last year’s Melbourne Cup.
Curiously, it was shot soon after Payne’s only ride of the day in the Wakeful Stakes (2000m) when she failed to place with Queen of Zealand.
Derby Day is a blur like that: a haze of group ones and Melbourne Cup qualifiers, of famous faces, battlers and millionaire businessman like Gerry Harvey standing around in a pair of casual shoes, much to the amusement of his wife, Katie Page.
The Godolphin stayer Oceanographer needed to win the Lexus Stakes (2500m) to make the final field of 24 on Tuesday, and did so right on the line and soon after was installed the $7 second equal favourite with Jameka.
Chad Schofield — son of Glyn — was on De Little Engine in the same race but had reason to smile afterwards. He will ride Oceanographer in the Cup.
“He came past pretty quick and that way he surged the last bit [I really liked] and with a light weight [52kg] in the Cup he’s going to be a winning chance,” Schofield said. “My horse [De Little Engine] was finding the line and he went past me like I was nailed to the fence.”
Soon after winning the derby, Cummings was asked if Prized Icon could be here again next year, trying to win the Melbourne Cup.
He quickly dismissed it, talking about the value of the horse’s stud price, highlighting the sad economical reality of the industry these days.
“No matter what, he’s going to be close to my heart for the rest of my life,” he said.