BART Cummings rarely started his horses at Broadmeadow if they drew poorly whenever the rail was out. The legendary late trainer was acutely aware of the reverse camber on the outside of the old course proper, and often queried Newcastle Jockey Club officials as to when they were going to “fix it”. Thus, it was quite a surprise when he did not scratch a lightly-raced chestnut gelding who was to begin his three-year-old season at the provincial track on September 23, 1995.
He had drawn 13 in a field of 14 in a Class 1 Handicap (1200m), and the rail was several metres out from its true position. Beforehand, there appeared nothing special about the seventh race on the nine-race program. It carried a total purse of $5000, with $3750 going to the winner’s connections.
But the wily Cummings – as he so often did – knew exactly what he was doing. He booked Newcastle jockey Darryl “Digger” McLellan for the mount, and the chestnut was backed from $7 to $4.
The wide barrier and the now no longer reverse camber weren’t any impediments that day. He won comfortably, and racegoers knew they had seen a horse who was certainly well above the Class 1 rivals he despatched. Subsequent events proved that this was indeed no ordinary racehorse. He was in fact SAINTLY, the “horse from heaven”, who passed away recently at the age of 24.
Cummings had bred Saintly by mating his unraced Sir Tristram mare All Grace with multiple Group 1 winner Sky Chase, whom he had also trained. Given that, there was little wonder the “Cups King” always had a real “soft spot” for him. Foaled in September, 1992, Saintly raced only four times as a two-year-old and managed to win at Randwick on April 19, 1995 at $26 against his own sex over 1200m. New Zealander Lisa Cropp was his rider.
Saintly was first-up when he scored at Broadmeadow to kick off his three-year-old season and two starts later made Australian racegoers truly sit up and take notice when he brought off a concerted betting plunge ($8 to $3.50) to land the Carbine Club Stakes (1600m) – the opening race at the four-day Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington. Darren Beadman rode him for the first time, and it was the beginning of an outstanding partnership. Beadman rode Saintly 11 times for six wins; never finishing out of a place on the chestnut. They came back to Flemington the following autumn and won the Australian Cup (2000m).
Back in Sydney, Saintly engaged in three memorable Group 1 duels with the mighty Octagonal – ridden, ironically, by Beadman – and came off “second best” each time, but never without giving his all. Who will forget that AJC Derby when Octagonal, Saintly and Filante ran themselves to a standstill in one of the greatest races ever run at headquarters?
When Saintly returned in the spring, Beadman was reunited and rode him for the last eight starts of his all too brief career. Surprisingly beaten twice (though placed) at short odds in the Group 3 Craven Plate (2000m) and Group 1 Metropolitan (2600m) at Randwick over the public holiday weekend spring meetings, Saintly, with an apparent shoeing problem rectified, clearly relished returning to his trainer’s Melbourne stables.
Whilst he scrambled around the home turn on the tight Moonee Valley circuit yet still managed to edge out Filante and All Our Mob in the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m), there were those who doubted his capacity to cope with the testing 3200m of the Melbourne Cup 10 days later at Flemington.
They hadn’t counted on the genius of Cummings. And Beadman was having none of it, either, especially after Saintly had turned in a sizzling gallop at Flemington on the Saturday morning prior to the Cup, convincing him the master trainer had the chestnut “spot on” for his biggest assignment.
Beadman gave Saintly a perfect run, and there was never any doubt about the outcome. He bolted away to beat Count Chivas and Skybeau.
It was a rather unique performance in more ways than one. He was the 10th – and only one - of Cummings’ historic 12 Melbourne Cup winners not to have run at Flemington on the Saturday prior to the Cup. But he did have the Cummings’ mantra of 10,000 metres plus in his legs before putting his stamp on Australia’s iconic race on that fabulous first Tuesday in November of 1996. And he fulfilled the trainer’s ambition to breed, own and train a Melbourne Cup winner.
Saintly raced 23 times for 10 wins and 11 placings (including four Group 1s) and earned nearly $4m in prizemoney. That figure would be so much greater by today’s standards. His only two unplaced runs were as a two-year-old. Mind you, they weren’t bad efforts. He finished sixth on debut at Canterbury at $61 and fourth at Rosehill at $4.50.
Cummings took Saintly overseas after the Melbourne Cup for a tilt at the Japan Cup, but in an ironic set of circumstances, he fell ill as his sire Sky Chase had done eight years earlier when also taken to Japan, and did not start. Not that he needed to prove anything, but he returned home and first-up turned in another stunning performance to win the Group 1 Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on February 8, 1997. Sadly, it was to be the last time racegoers saw this wonderful racehorse in action.
Cummings discovered the gelding had bowed a tendon in a track gallop a couple of weeks after brilliantly winning the Orr Stakes and, despite his best efforts, Saintly did not race again.
Upon his retirement, Saintly spent some time at “Living Legends” on Melbourne’s outskirts before returning to New South Wales. He spent nearly the last 10 years of his life being lovingly looked after in the tranquil surroundings of the Cummings’ family’s Princes Farm at Castlereagh, on the banks of the Nepean River. Those who were fortunate to see the long-striding chestnut race will always remember him. Saintly, the horse from heaven, has gone “home”.