Could Freedman pass Cummings’s cup record? November 2005
It was a Melbourne Cup preview with three participants. It was 1991.
The host was consummate professional Bruce McAvaney. The venue was commercial television.
The guests were J.B.Cummings and D.L.Freedman.
Three greater fonts of turf knowledge are rarely gathered together, uninterrupted, for free public consumption.
The interviewer introduced his guests, the camera panned from McAvaney to the two horse trainers as the introduction was made:
“Between them our next two guests have trained the winners of nine Melbourne Cups.”
Cummings sat stony faced – some things never change – while Freedman turned his head into his left shoulder and laughed with embarrassment.
The reason was obvious. McAvaney was making a joke at the expense of his friend Freedman and in his awe of a legend, Cummings.
Cummings had trained eight cup winners, Freedman’s score was one.
It was a good joke, a good intro and a telling moment in a young trainer’s career.
In that interview McAvaney asked Cummings how the favourite Let’s Elope’s chances stacked up compared to the trainer’s previous winners.
Cummings: “The best.”
McAvaney, shocked, said words like: “Better than Galilee, better than the other winners?”
Cummings: “I answered the question.”
I felt it the biggest ‘free tip’ in the history of Australian horse racing. Let’s Elope won.
Fast-forward 14 years. Freedman stands with emotions in check as he watches Makybe Diva return to scale after her third successive Melbourne Cup win – his personal training tally reads five.
In that Melbourne studio in 1991, Freedman had known the joys of cup victory with Tawriffic. This day he knew of it four-times more with Subzero, Doriemus and Makybe Diva’s last two.
Had Greg Hall been right the five could have been six? When Doriemus ran the champion of his year Might and Power to a photo finish in 1997, the jockey gave a victory salute, which proved premature.
From where trainers watch the Melbourne Cup, Freedman could well have thought he had won the race again.
Apart from the obvious, McAvaney’s intro had no need to have embarrassed Freedman. He was no stranger to creating racing history.
Less than a month before, in the 1991 Epsom Handicap, he had pulled off the double-double with Super Impose, training the gelding to successive wins in Australia’s two great mile races.
Super Impose had won autumn’s Doncaster Handicap in 1990 and 1991 and backed up in the spring of both years to win the Epsom.
No horse had ever done it, none has done it since, none is likely to do it for a while – but then no horse, especially a mare, was expected to win three successive Melbourne Cups.
Cummings continues to amaze. His tally of cup winners since his first with Light Fingers in 1965 and his most recent with Rogan Josh in 1999 is 11.
In 35 years he trained the winner of the greatest race in Australia nearly one third of the times that he entered a runner.
Will anyone break that record – perhaps only Cummings himself* who saddled up two runners this year, including the last-start Flemington winner Strasbourg?
However, he will have to find another champion – another Galilee, a Let’s Elope or a Saintly – for the Melbourne Cup has become a ‘form race’. Slouches and roughies don’t win this race anymore.
It is a class event and the winner is often the worst result for bookmakers.
However, another man waits in the wings to challenge the Cummings’ phenomenon.
Once we compared Bart to Etienne de Mestre, the man who trained Archer and had a tally of five winners in the late 19th century.
Then, like Makybe Diva with her unprecedented three in a row, Cummings created a section of his own – men who have trained 10 cup winners or more.
Freedman is halfway to double figures. He is also a young man.
Bart dominated 20th century Melbourne Cups. Perhaps this century, it’s Lee’s turn?
By 2020, we may be hailing another double-figures winner of the race that stops a nation?
HOOFNOTES: *By 2020 J. B. Cummings had added a 12th Melbourne Cup winner (Viewed 2008) to his record. He died in 2015. D.L. Freedman trained many more top-class horses in Australia but not another Melbourne Cup winner. He moved to Singapore in 2017 and was leading trainer in that country in 2018.