Thoroughbreds v roughies: why women trump men
Elegant ... Francesca Cumani embodies women's innate superiority. Photo: Penny Stephens
Melbourne Cup day is not a cerebral day. Even so, this year reaffirmed my belief that women, at their best, are superior to men at the best.
The trigger was Channel Seven's coverage of cup week. It was anchored by three roughies and a thoroughbred. The thoroughbred was the only woman on the anchor panel, an English import, Francesca Cumani, who floated elegantly above the fray, intimately involved and yet apart.
Cumani may have a dark side - I've never met her and almost certainly never will - but on camera she betrays no self-absorption and no vacuity. At 29, she has left no trail of scandal, controversy, conflict or fodder for the prurient.
On race day, with so much bogan chic on parade, Cumani opted for simple elegance.
Beauty is commonplace but beauty plus intelligence, lucidity, courage and loyalty is an altogether more rarefied combination. It is a combination that can be found in men but its highest expression is in women.
Beauty. It has been widely noted that Cumani, the daughter of one of the world's leading race horse trainers, Luca Cumani, is a high-order beauty. That is self-evident and requires no elaboration.
Intelligence. Cumani is quadrilingual. She speaks English, Italian (her father's first language), Spanish and French. She has a degree in modern languages from Bristol University. She exhibits a depth and breadth of knowledge in her chosen field, thoroughbred racing.
Lucidity. It does not take long to take Cumani seriously when she is analysing a horse because she can seamlessly command names, dates, jockeys, events and conditions when discussing past performances and current preparations. She also speaks from experience.
Courage. Cumani is an excellent rider and a former jockey. It takes courage to take a race horse to full gallop. She said in an interview last year: "A lot to do with racing is your nerve, and holding it. The moment you lose your nerve or get scared, the horse can really sense it." I still vividly recall the few times I've been on a horse at full gallop and they were only pluggers. I can only imagine the force of being on a frothing stallion with its ears back.
Loyalty. Cumani is very much her father's daughter. She is intimately involved with her family's racing operation. She has always pitched in for five a.m. training sessions. She is also her mother's daughter. Her mother, Sara, is a rider of quality and involved in training. Their daughter is a third-generation trainer and committed for the long haul.
She also wants to have children. Here we reach the point of divergence, the point of discrimination, where the apex of the pyramid of admiral qualities is occupied by women, not men. A man can be beautiful, intelligent, lucid, courageous and loyal, but he can never take on the greatest of all responsibilities, procreation. Woman also have a greater physical capacity for pleasure than men. It is nature's scheme. Because in nature, procreation is paramount. So woman have to take greater risks than men for passion.
Women live in a more dangerous world than men. Men routinely have much greater physical strength than women. In domestic disorder, or crime or social conflict, when push comes to shove, women are usually at a disadvantage. They have had to rely on their wits more than men and relying on wits, trumps relying on strength.
I thought about these things while watching Seven's coverage of the Melbourne Cup, amid all the big horses and little hats. I also took Cumani's advice and put $20 each-way on My Quest For Peace, her father's less fancied starter in the cup. (So did my wife. She liked the name.)
He finished 10th. Her father's more fancied starter, Mount Athos, finished fifth. I had backed, him, too. "When it mattered he didn't quite have the turn of foot," Cumani said as she analysed her stable's latest frustrations in the Melbourne Cup.
"It's so disappointing. It feels like déjà vu when you've come, and you have so many hopes. And you really think you've got everything right. And it just doesn't happen. It's frustrating. And my dad said he's not coming back."
This should ring alarm bells at Seven, where Cumani's three-year contract with the network has just expired. Even if her father, understandably, has decided that seven attempts at the cup, seven arduous, costly expeditions to the other side of the world, is enough, Seven should reach a new accommodation with his daughter.
On Seven's biggest day, covering the race that stops a nation, they need that thoroughbred among the roughies.