When Luca Cumani retired in late 2018 after training from Bedford House for 43 years, he had literally sent out an A to Z of major international winner, from Japan Cup winner Alkaased to Dubawi’s dam, the E.P. Taylor winner Zomaradah, via top- notch performers including Barathea, Commanche Run, Falbrav, High-Rise, Kahyasi, Markofdistinction, Postponed, Presvis, Then Again and Tolomeo. Cumani is now more involved in running the family’s Fittocks Stud, and his wisdom and experience are being put to good use as a member-nominated director of the BHA. He has recently been made an Officer of the Order of the Star of Italy – broadly equivalent to an OBE or MBE – for the distinction with which he has represented his country abroad.
I’ve only changed jobs. I haven’t retired completely. I miss the excitement of training but I had to make a decision. Changing jobs is a bit like finishing a very good book then starting another which is hopefully going to be equally good. I’m enjoying living on the stud and being out every day with the mares and foals. I’d be pretending if I called it work, because compared to training it’s not. Training was always a pleasure, but it was a lot of hours, seven days a week. I’m fairly hands on at the stud, but it’s a lot fewer hours and I can take a day off when I want to.
This time of year was always exciting if I had a Derby hope and I was very lucky in that both of my Derby winners went to Epsom unbeaten. We would have been planning for Royal Ascot too from back in March when the horses started doing a bit more. I started to form ideas fairly early about which would go to Ascot, and for what race, and then work backwards. The whole summer is exciting in racing, with the Derby and Royal Ascot followed by July week, the King George, Goodwood and so on. If you have a horse rated 50 you just take each race as it comes, but with the better horses we all like to have a race in our sights to take aim at.
I was being facetious when I said some years ago that pressure is for tyres, but if it’s not pressure as such the will to win can still eat you up. Of course, things go wrong all the time with horses. I’d try not to show it, but maybe the dog, the cat or the wife would feel it. I don’t miss the occasional difficulty one could have with owners or staff, or the disappointment you can have when a horse is injured or doesn’t fulfil his potential. I don’t miss the M25 either. As a full-time trainer you do deny yourself some pleasures, although I wouldn’t have called them sacrifices. I have more spare time now, so there have been more holidays to Italy, and I’ve been able to say yes more often when Sara and I are invited somewhere.
Once foaling is finished in May it’s back to the yearlings, and Tattersalls will view them to decide which ones go in Book 1, which ones Book 2, and hopefully not too many for Book 3. From then on the build-up gets exciting as we prepare them, and it reaches a crescendo when they get to the sales. We occasionally keep a filly or two in order to continue a line, but the vast majority are sold. If we’ve got it wrong with one or two and we were asking too much then we race them, most in partnership with old friends and former owners. It’s fun to be with nice people this way and after 50 years of it that’s almost the only time I go racing now.
Being a BHA board member is very interesting, but it can be frustrating too when the topics aren’t the ones you feel are most important. You can’t have it all your own way though and you have to dedicate yourself to all of them. I’m there representing the Horsemen’s Group, which is a broad church of racing professionals. We all know what’s needed, but the difficulty is in getting there. The executive is very good and does what is required for the day-to-day running of the sport, but the BHA gets unjustified bad press for things that are not part of its remit. With prize-money for instance, the BHA is there to help distribute it if you like, but it doesn’t have a free hand in deciding how to raise more money.
Cutting out 300 fixtures seems far too easy a solution to the small fields issue. I’m not convinced and I’d like to see more data. Apart from anything else, it means cutting down some income for racing, and we all agree racing needs more income. It’s all very well saying cutting fixtures will be better for racing in the long term, but people are struggling to survive today, never mind in ten years’ time.
The overseas market has never been stronger – we need to keep the gap manageable between the demand for our better horses and the reward for keeping them. At present that gap is so wide it’s understandable they are being sold. Most owners keep an eye on the value of their stock and what racing is costing them. Nobody is advocating they should make money out of racing, but they are entitled to look to lose as little as possible. If they are offered a sum for a horse which it will never be able to win, the temptation to sell is obvious. Twenty or 30 years ago the Australians weren’t buying our horses, nor hardly was Hong Kong, while there was little racing in the Middle East. Demand may even accelerate as Saudi Arabia is talking of building more racecourses, which they will need horses for.
One of the reasons we are losing so many horses abroad is because we have done so well racing them internationally. The Australians wouldn’t be buying our horses if Europeans hadn’t done so well in the Melbourne Cup, and that can only be a positive. The internationalising of racing has only been a plus, as it has been for all the major sports. We might be losing horses through it, but we have hugely enlarged the area in which we operate.