The Cups King likes what he sees. Photo: Pat Scala
BART Cummings training the winner of the first race of Flemington's week in the spotlight is an opening so fitting it could have been crafted by Danny Boyle. In a gesture worthy of the stage, the old master then quietly stepped back to let the son also shine.
Anthony Cummings' last Derby day winner came 21 years ago, way back when his old man had won only eight of his dozen Melbourne Cups, but he pegged one back on dad on Saturday when Fiveandahalfstar romped away with the Derby. In a familial race for training honours across the big five races of spring (Melbourne and Caulfield cups, Cox Plate, Derby, Oaks), 84-year-old Bart's lead over his 55-year-old son has been narrowed to 39-1.
With its four group 1s, plus 11th-hour entry into Tuesday's Cup going to the winner of a race run at high noon, Derby day is a sure bet to bring out the big names. They don't come any bigger than Cummings, although Saturday's major support act packed a mighty punch.
Damien Oliver, still under investigation for allegedly betting against his own horse, but riding like a man without a care in the world, kicked a 50-1 shot into third in the fourth race, took second in the Mackinnon Stakes on the runaway Glass Harmonium, then piloted the perfect course for the younger Cummings in the premier race of the day.
''I was getting close - third, second … to win the big one, I couldn't be happier,'' said Oliver, who blew a kiss to the heavens after crossing the line, a gesture to his late brother Jason, who died in a race fall 10 years ago this week.
Oliver carried his grief into the saddle a decade ago and rode Media Puzzle to a stirring Melbourne Cup victory. His ability to compartmentalise is astounding; another Cup triumph on Americain on Tuesday would surprise no one.
His first Derby trick was simply getting Fiveandahalfstar to the track, after Cummings weighed up a late float journey from Sydney and a campaign of eight runs since late August, and seriously considered giving Saturday a miss. Oliver hopped off after trackwork at Caulfield on Wednesday and talked him around.
''Usually Anthony doesn't need much talking into running in these races, but I'm glad I did with this one,'' Oliver said. ''You don't get many cracks at running in a Derby, and I thought it was a worthwhile punt.''
About a dozen of Oliver's family are over from Perth, and the jockey beamed a greeting to his children, Niali, Zara and Luke, into a television camera. ''Good onya kids, I love you,'' he said, mirroring how punters who looked past favourite It's A Dundeel and the well-fancied Super Cool, and took the $41 on offer for Fiveandahalfstar, were feeling about ''Ollie''.
Cummings reflected that his stable's goal was to be part of every group 1 one race going. ''You take aim, and you don't always get there.'' His 21-year drought over, he duly backed up with a second long-odds winner in the second-last race.
The crowd fell just short of 100,000 and a good distance shy of the Victoria Racing Club's hopes, but many among the 98,823 celebrated another breakthrough, when the popular Alcopop finally won a deserved group 1 in the Mackinnon Stakes.
''The horse is just a champion, he's made me as a trainer,'' said trainer Jake Stephens, who famously readied the eight-year-old for racing herding sheep in a South Australian paddock.
The last automatic entry into the Cup went to Kelinni, an emphatic winner of the Lexus Stakes, which opened the door to further riches for owner Neil Werrett. As the major player among the fortunate group that race Black Caviar, he already knows pretty much all there is to know about winning big.
''She did a good job,'' Werrett said of Kelinni, so used to paying compliment to the great sprinting mare that he briefly forgot that Kelinni is a boy, quickly adding ''he''.
Is having a Melbourne Cup runner better than winning at Royal Ascot? ''No - but it might be as good on Tuesday.''
In truth, Werrett doubts anything in racing could compare with what Black Caviar has given him. ''[She's] way up there,'' he said, pointing high into the air. ''But it's a good second.''