Bart has high hopes for Illo
The clever lines may come a little more slowly, but the horses do not.
It is springtime, and as he has done for most of past 50-or-so years, Bart Cummings is sorting out his Melbourne Cup options.
And, as he leaned on a fence rail watching the horse that arrived in his stable from Germany two weeks ago, it became clear at least one of those options was growing in value.
“I think we’re in it with a chance,” Cummings said.
“This German horse is getting better all the time. He’s stronger than he looks.
“The way he’s going, I’m quite happy.”
The horse emerging as Cummings’ best chance of a 13th Melbourne Cup is a relatively plain looking six-year-old entire called Illo whose job, to a certain extent, is to replace the irreplaceable So You Think.
When he has his first Australian run at Moonee Valley on Saturday, Illo will be oblivious to what So You Think did on the corresponding day for the previous two years.
Cummings, however, is not.
As he contemplated Illo’s exercise gallop at the Valley on Tuesday, Cummings couldn’t keep his dual Cox Plate winner, now campaigning with mixed results in Europe, out of the conversation.
“If he was here he’d still be winning,” he said.
“That’s what I say, but everyone’s got different ideas.”
Illo worked the way Cummings wanted him to – strongly.
“The other horse is a good worker and he kept up with him,” he said.
“He’s feeling good, he’s putting on weight and he’s working strongly.
“He’s got to work strongly, or he can’t get two miles.
Illo’s assignment on Saturday is the 2500m of the Moonee Valley Cup, and his trainer admits he’s “a bit in the dark” about what to expect.
But he’s been keeping up with So You Think’s racing in Europe and he knows it was a German horse who beat his former champion into fourth place in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris earlier this month.
“If a German horse can win the Arc, maybe a German horse can win the Melbourne Cup,” he says.
Illo represents a new challenge for Cummings who knows more about winning Melbourne Cups than anyone who has ever lived.
Since his first Cup starter, Asian Court in 1958, he has started more than 80 horses in the race he has won 12 times, and all of them have had “the miles in their legs”.
“He hasn’t raced for three months, so I’m not sure how he’ll go,” he said.
“The information I got from Germany was to do our own thing, go our own way, use our own methods.”
Information from the horse has also been limited, which led to a lengthy and intense discussion after Tuesday’s gallop between Cummings and exercise rider Joe Agresta, a man whose insight the trainer has relied on for more than 20 years.
Asked if Agresta had much to report, Cummings ducked the question.
“He needs a tongue tie,” he said.