As this issue of the magazine was going to press, news came of the impending retirement from training of Luca Cumani.
Of the many wonderful sights on Newmarket Heath each morning, it remains a thrill to see the coffee-and-cream livery of Cumani’s string snaking its way down Warren Hill, or standing, statue-like, as if in a military parade along the Bury Hill walking ground.
Times change, of course, but it is presently unthinkable that at some stage next year we will no longer be able to consider Cumani the master of Bedford House. And make no mistake, he has been a master of his profession for decades.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to interview many trainers, owners and breeders for this publication and others. Cumani of course fits all three of those categories and he is a gift as an interview subject.
Like his fellow long-serving Newmarket trainer Sir Mark Prescott, he reaches easily for humorous quips with which to pepper his opinions on horseracing.
Funny he may be, but his considered opinions are always worth noting.
One senses that his keen eye and brain are constantly working overtime to absorb the world around him, and for most of his life, including his 43 years as a trainer, that world has largely involved thoroughbreds.
In Julian Muscat’s excellent appreciation of his career in the Racing Post, Cumani emphasised a shift in focus rather than a retirement as such. “I’m not the retiring type or the type who gives up,” he said. Quite.
Ten years ago when interviewed for this magazine ahead of his attempt at winning the Derby for the third time with Curtain Call, he admitted: “It’s still the race I want to win. I’ve won it twice but it’s never enough. Racing is like a drug – the more races you win the more you want to win.”
My hopes had been pinned on either Cumani or Jim Bolger to emulate my racing hero Arthur Budgett by winning the Derby with a homebred, and indeed it is of course a Cumani aim, though no longer with the training element attached.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win the Derby as a trainer and it would be lovely to win it as a breeder as well,” he said.
“If you look around the world, the best races are around a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half and they are the ones I want to win.
“I’d love to win a Coronation Cup with a four-year-old. I’d much prefer to win the Arc than the Abbaye.”
And so Cumani and his wife Sara will focus on life at Fittocks Stud rather than in the heart of the Newmarket training community.
His departure from the list of trainers, sad though that may be for those of us who have admired his career, can be viewed, if not as a new chapter, then as the embellishment of a work already in progress.
The Cumanis bought Fittocks Stud back in 1984 initially to be home to mares inherited upon the death of Cumani’s father Sergio.
Since that time extra land has been acquired to increase the farm to 360 acres, with Darley, Juddmonte and Hascombe & Valiant Studs as neighbours.
Fittocks has already produced a Classic winner, Coolmore’s St Leger hero Milan, the grandson of Kalata, an early broodmare purchase when her half-brother, Cumani’s future Derby winner Kahyasi, was in training at Bedford House as a two-year-old. Touchingly, Milan was named in honour of the birthplace of his breeder.
The family’s sole Derby runner in their own colours has thus far been Pukka, a grandson of another important Fittocks matriarch Souk, and thus related to Classic winners Alexandrova and Chicquita.
Cumani will doubtless continue to draw on his many years of experience in nurturing the young minds and physiques of the many thoroughbreds to have come under his care as he and Sara attempt to strike the delicate balance all breeders must find between commercial desirability and breeding with one’s heart and mind.
“Breeding and training compliment each other – from the trainer’s perspective you get to know a bit about soundness and temperament and therefore you can use that when you get to the breeding side.
“On the training front, knowing the horse from the very beginning and having seen it from when it was born, all the way through, is a bonus,” said Cumani in a separate interview for Thoroughbred Owner Breeder four years ago.
His focus is now undivided by these twin pursuits but it is unlikely ever to be one-sided.