By Ray Hickson
James Cummings is leaving no stone unturned to master the art of training two-year-olds.
It’s a hugely important part of his role as Godolphin’s head trainer and we asked Cummings about his approach to the youngsters, the debut of boom colt Plague Stone at Rosehill and, five months into the job, the pressure he put on himself to succeed.
You’d think anyone with the name Cummings would already be well versed but as his legendary grandfather Bart famously said: "In this game, you never stop learning - never".
It’s been a big couple of weeks for Godolphin and their two-year-olds, with Dynamited winning at Rosehill on November 11 and Gongs posting a runaway victory at Canterbury during the week.
“It’s inevitable that in the position I’m in with Godolphin, and particularly Crown Lodge, I’m going to learn a lot about two-year-olds,’’ Cummings said.
“We have so many of them on our hands and I can rely on guys with years of experience that have seen top two-year-olds come through the stable.
“I can look through their records and see how they have been managed in the past, and I have done that, right up until the day they are broken in and sent for their first preps.’’
Godolphin has around 156 named two-year-olds this season. That’s a lot of horses to get to know, not to mention the other 200-odd older horses on the books.
Plague Stone, who debuts in the $150,000 Golden Gift (1100m), attracted the attention of punters as soon as TAB posted $2.10 and he was a red hot $1.85 favourite on Thursday.
The Lonhro colt won his only public trial at Canterbury on November 3 by 5-1/4 lengths and while Cummings has a solid opinion of the youngster he’d prefer to let the horse do the talking first.
“He really woke up after a solid jump out on the Warwick Farm course proper before the Canterbury trial,’’ he said.
“He’s been building on that ever since. He’s going to be professional, that’s for sure, and that goes a long way.
Plague Stone's impressive Canterbury trial win - November 3
“He has a lot of talent and we’d be pretty measured about him until we see him do it on race day.’’
Plague Stone, Dynamited, Gongs and other impressive youngster in Elessedil are among Godolphin’s 102 Golden Slipper nominations.
Cummings said it’s a little early in the season to be working out a pecking order but is enthusiastic about what we might see at the business end.
He's only had one Golden Slipper runner under his own name, Good Standing in 2016, but also saddled up Romantic Moon with Bart Cummings in 2013.
“We have a really interesting bunch of youngsters, they’re a good mix,’’ he said.
“They won’t all be ready to go pre-Christmas but we’ve had quite a number of them at the trials already.
"We’re starting to get a good line on them and pin down those we feel are precocious enough at the top level as two-year-old. There’s a few that we quite like we are prepared to wait for.
"It’s not something to be overcomplicated, keep it simple and they come to the fore when they are ready.’’
Despite the wealth of knowledge in the Cummings family, for a 29-year-old to be thrown the keys to a massive global racing and breeding empire is a big responsibility.
Classy filly Alizee handed him a maiden Group 1 for Godolphin winning the Flight Stakes in the spring and preparations are underway to tackle the autumn.
Cummings, who has two young children with wife Monica, admits he put a lot of pressure on himself when he took on the role back in July but now, while still on a learning curve, seems a lot more comfortable.
“It’s not to be underestimated how much pressure trainers put on themselves throughout the whole industry,’’ he said.
“They let me have plenty of time to myself. As each month goes by I’m getting to know the staff a lot better and I think the horses are consistently painting the picture.
“It’s a good position to be in when you’re trying to learn a little bit more about your craft.
“There’s a lot to be said for taking everything bit by bit and not trying to make drastic changes all at once. The last thing a place like Crown Lodge needs are drastic changes.’’