The Other King Rides Off Into The Sunset
Sydney Morning Herald
Friday November 7, 2008
The first Melbourne Cup for Bart Cummings, with Light Fingers in 1965, is the most memorable for Tony Bourke, who retires from The Age after a long and distinguished stint as a turf writer. The redundancy angel has landed on the oldest computer still in operation.During his career - which began as a copy boy with the Melbourne Truth in 1955 - Bourke has written thousands of well-crafted words on racing, more recently specialising in the northern hemisphere invaders at Sandown each year. Light Fingers, the first of Cummings's winners, came to his mind as the Cups King took his tally to 12 with Viewed at Flemington on Tuesday. Bourke, too, carries the title of "King" - as in "Quadrella King" for a winning streak with that particular betting form. "At that stage, Bart was just coming along," Bourke recalls. "He'd been associated with his father [Jim] who won the Melbourne Cup with Comic Court."Light Fingers was such a lovely horse. She went into the race with an interrupted preparation, and still managed to win. She'd been a champion three-year-old filly. Roy Higgins brought her back to scale and gave her a kiss when he got off. Jean Shrimpton [the English model] was here so it was a great year for fillies."At the time no one could imagine Bart would win 12 Cups. But to run first and second [Light Fingers beat Ziema by a nose] you thought, 'Here's a guy on the way.' We had Tommy [Smith] and Colin Hayes. Tommy was the leading trainer and Colin was making his name as well. Bart was the new boy on the block. In a very short time, he was matching them in that fantastic period. Bart went on to win the next two Melbourne Cups, and then you were thinking, how far would he go? Light Fingers was a highlight but Galilee (1966) was probably his best until Saintly (1996). Saintly was the easiest Cup winner I've seen. "This year? Viewed is a horse I hadn't considered, but one thing about Bart, even over 80, you never rule him out." A new dimension came into the Melbourne Cup for Bourke in 1993 - the northern hemisphere invaders. "I've enjoyed going out to see them at Sandown, particularly Dermot Weld," he says. "You meet other characters along the way. Guys with unusual tactics like Mark Johnston from Yorkshire. Doing things so different from how our horses are trained, like bringing horses here for the Cup that hadn't raced for two months. "Dermot had studied Australian racing, came here in his younger days. Vintage Crop was incredible. Some mornings he didn't do much at all. Never worked like Australian horses did. But he got the job done. Vintage Crop ran in three Melbourne Cups, won one and could have taken two. He was very unlucky in 1995, and in 1994 he had that injury and [jockey Mick] Kinane was criticised heavily for his ride but was under instructions to keep the horse out of trouble. Vintage Crop had a hole in his side from the accident at Sandown when he ran into a fence. While they [internationals] still have only three [Cup] winners, I think the interest created by them has been great for racing."After a stint with other papers, Bourke joined The Age in 1966, taking the position held by the late Bill Casey, who moved to The Sun in Sydney. "Racing was my hobby, and if you can work at your hobby, you've backed a winner," he says.Bourke travelled Australia covering racing for The Age and gained legendary status at the Sebel Town House at Kings Cross. Rick's Bar, a speakeasy, was a favourite Melbourne haunt where he entertained interstate hacks less salubriously at Cup time.The best jockey he's seen? "Roy Higgins matched it with any as far as Australians go," he says. "John Miller was a great hands-and-heels jockey. Darby McCarthy, at his peak, was a sensational horseman. They were geniuses. Higgins at his best was equally as good in Sydney as Melbourne. Many Melbourne jockeys didn't fire in Sydney." Bourke gives Geoff Murphy an honourable mention among trainers. "Geoff wasn't only a great trainer but a character," he says. "He developed progeny of new stallions like Sir Tristram, and Sovereign Edition. He'd bar you with, 'I'll never speak to you again. That's the end of you.' It happened more than once with me but only lasted for 24 hours. In Perth, I wrote a story about one of his horses being sore, and he challenged, 'How would you know it was sore? Don't talk to me again.' The horse was beaten, and I bumped into him that night. 'You were right. The horse was sore and shouldn't have run,' he said. It was all forgotten."Owners got short shrift from him. He was always in the shower when they called. One, Eddie Kornhauser, said: 'Geoff must be the cleanest man in Melbourne, he's never out of the shower."'But horses, too, have left great memories for Bourke. "When I saw Tulloch I thought I'd never see a better horse, and I haven't," he says. "A couple might get near him, possibly Kingston Town. It was a tragedy he never won a Melbourne Cup. At his [Tulloch's] first start in 23 months (he nearly died in that time) at Flemington. he went around against the local idol Lord, who started favourite. It was a two-horse war down the straight, and nobody knew who won. When Tulloch's number went up people actually did throw hats in the air."Of course, it's always been a journalists' joke about demonstrations involving punters tossing fruit (ever see a racegoer with an orange?) in anger and hurling their hats in delight? But on Tulloch's day with Lord, Bourke had a definite sighting."The King" is not the type of horse to do well on grass, but a major change must come with Bourke's change in direction. His computer will have to go. It will be like a horse-and-cart driver transferring to Ferrari.Listen, Aidan, here's how it works ... "CLASH of the cultures" came to the fore after the Irish joke in Tuesday's Melbourne Cup at Flemington. Not only did their three hoops ride like kamikazes but trainer Aidan O'Brien was nearly as aggressive in the stewards' inquiry.It has been mentioned that an inquiry into the form reversal of Viewed would have been more likely in Europe than O'Brien being grilled about the controversial tactics in the Melbourne Cup. Had chief stipe Terry Bailey not taken the action he did he would have been drummed off the course.Millions were lost on Septimus and punters were entitled to an explanation. That's the Australian way.As the mastermind behind the tactics O'Brien's presence was necessary despite the inconvenience to him. As Bailey explained, the Irish trainer was "on the front foot". Forelock-tugging isn't necessary before stewards but neither Ray Murrihy, the Racing NSW chief, nor John Schreck before him would have tolerated more attitude from the visitor. Neither would have taken action against Viewed because stewards had already explained he had struck trouble in the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington last Saturday.Apparently O'Brien spices his everyday dialogue with "listen" and "do you understand?" - used freely by him during the hearing. That's perhaps acceptable to his staff, owners or even the media but not a judicial inquiry. In fact, if he listened and attempted to understand a little more he would have had an easier transit late on Tuesday afternoon. No doubt O'Brien is a great horseman.So, too, is Dermot Weld but he has brought his European form to Australia. No clash here. Weld studied Banjo Paterson so he understands the Aussie culture. He also appreciates the value of Australian jockeys.