By Brad Gray
In 2009, Nacim Dilmi, and his now wife Lauren, took a punt on Australia. It paid dividends with the French-born thirty-year-old now an assistant trainer to James Cummings at Godolphin.
“Racing for me, started at the age of 13. I did apprentice school at Chantilly in France for five years but I had no clue about horses before that. My dad was a punter so we used to go to the races all the time and that’s where I started to really enjoy racing,” Dilmi, who is now an Australian resident, recalled.
“At the end of 2006 when I finished my apprenticeship, and jockey life didn’t go too well because of weight, I went to the UK for three years. After three years in the UK I wanted to see something else and Australia came to mind. It was only meant to be for six months but I have been here nearly nine years now.
“At first we had in mind either the US or Australia but a lot of people were going to America and we wanted to try something we hadn’t heard that much about. At the time, plenty of overseas horses were going to Australia for the spring carnivals so we thought they don’t go across the world for no reason so it must be pretty good down there.”
Dilmi, who was born in the north of France, close to Lille, worked for Paul Cole, one of Britain’s most successful trainers before a stint with then-newcomer Tom Dascombe. Dilmi met his wife Lauren during his British sojourn and the two have been inseparable since, enjoying six month stints with Gai Waterhouse and also Greg Eurell in Melbourne, before in 2011 the couple found a home with Bart and James Cummings at Lelani Lodge.
“At the time Bart wasn’t coming to the track much, just the office. He knew everything about his horses whether he saw them at the track or not. James was very hands on at the time and Bart had everything reported to him. He could see his horses in the yard, what they looked like and how they were going without being at the track,” said Dilmi.
“The way he would look at his horses you knew he wasn’t just thinking ‘yeah, it looks alright’. Bart knew exactly what he was looking for and if the horse wasn’t ready to run just by seeing it.”
Before being promoted to foreman for Bart and James, Dilmi had previously spent a month with the Cummings stable two years earlier in 2009 before his working holiday visa expired. It was then he realised that the stable was the right fit for him and when he got to work with star galloper So You Think.
“So You Think was just starting his pre-training in readiness to go back to Melbourne,” Dilmi, who was a track rider at the time, recalls.
“He was like a horse I’ve never seen before. The way he was built was unique. He was amazing. On his looks and everything he achieved in Australia and Europe, he’s the best horse I’ve worked with.
“I rode Rock Classic for a while, after he won the Guineas in Melbourne. Faint Perfume was there too. For the month that I was there Bart had some very good horses.”
So did Dilmi ever get the chance to throw his leg over the subsequent 10-time Group One winner So You Think?
“James didn’t know me well at the time and wasn’t confident enough to put me,” Dilmi laughs.
That has certainly all changed now with Dilmi an integral part of Cummings’ training regime, so much so that he asked Dilmi to join him at Godolphin when he made the switch.
“Even if I had to take a slight step back, opportunities like that don’t come around very often so I followed James across. I couldn’t see myself working for anybody else at the time so I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”
Cummings and Dilmi have shared a number of milestones including Cummings’ first Group One win as a trainer on his own, Prized Icon in the Champagne Stakes.
“It was special because the horse was very difficult from the get-go. He was never an easy horse – for the track riders in particular. To get him to win a Group One was very special,” Dilmi said.
Another horse close to Dilmi’s heart is the “cheeky” Eurozone, who now stands at Newgate Farm. The colt won the Group Two Stan Fox in 2013, beating Criterion, before going down by a nose in the Group One Orr Stakes at Caulfield beaten by Moment Of Change.
“I started to ride him as a yearling and was with him the whole way through which was a great feeling. I’ve seen some very good horses in my time in racing and been associated with a lot better but to be associated with him from the very start was also something very special,” he said.
Dilmi admitted he harbours ambitions to train himself one day and would especially love a few Eurozones poking their heads over his boxes.
“I never thought about it when I first came to Australia but the more I was able to step up in positions the more it hit me that this is what I want to do. Especially in Australia where you get a lot more help. In Europe you not only have to find your own clients but yourself a stable too. It’s not like here where you train on course. I’m in no rush to get there but when the opportunity comes up, it’s something I really want to do.”
For the moment though Dilmi is focused on the task at hand with Godolphin and their huge Australian operation where success breeds success.
“It’s unbelievable. The amount of horses they have is something I have never seen before. You can tell Sheikh Mohammed breeds the best and the big team of staff all know exactly what they are doing. At the end of the day Godolphin just want the very best for their horses,” said Dilmi before explaining what his day generally entails.
“When I get to the stables at 4:30am, I go straight to track work with James and Darren Beadman. One day I’ll be at Warwick Farm and the next at Osbourne Park. After track work we go back to the office and with Darren, get track work ready for the next day. If there are races on we both attend and if not, it’s into the office for a few hours. In the afternoon I’m monitoring the horses in the stables and if James is here we talk about programming. It’s a busy day...”
*Article appeared in the December edition of the Racing NSW magazine