It's In The Blood

Too Darn Lizzie

It’s a wondrous thing, the people and the places racing and breeding can bring you into contact with.

Rob Cummings, furniture importer and hobby farmer originally from Ringwood in eastern Melbourne, bought a mare and sold her daughter and now he’s one degree of separation from her buyer, Mr Phantom Of The Opera himself, Lord Lloyd Webber.

The filly is Too Darn Lizzie, she’s by the stallion Lloyd Webber half owns with Sheikh Mohammed, Too Darn Hot (Dubawi), and she presaged a formidable career by winning the $500,000 The Debut (F) (1000m) on the Gold Coast’s day of days last weekend.

Or is it the other way round?

Andrew Lloyd Webber, son of a music teacher in England, is now connected to Rob Cummings, who not only played AFL for Fitzroy and Hawthorn but has a distinctive place in the world’s best football code. For Cummings is none other than a great-grandson of Joe Johnson, who is recognised as the first indigenous man to have played VFL, blazing a trail for countless others to have graced the game.

Johnson was a great story, playing in Fitzroy’s back-to-back premiership teams of 1904-05, and later serving in the army in World War I. There, in the Middle East, he showed those great Australian traits of valour, mixed with a healthy disregard for authority. You could say he was outed for four weeks by the tribunal for dissent, or that he served a month’s imprisonment for punching his superior officer. Either way, with Johnson also beating a life-threatening illness to return home to his young family, surely all these threads could come together for Lloyd Webber’s next hit musical?

Okay, it’s doubtful Lloyd Webber is much of an AFL aficionado (and if he was he’d be a Geelong fan anyway), although he does love his soccer, and is a cred-worthy lifelong supporter of battlers Leyton Orient. And his connection to horses has come mostly through his (third) wife Madeleine, a former three-day eventer who’s the family force behind their Watership Down Stud, spread between England and Ireland. The couple raced Too Darn Hot in his stellar triple-Group 1 winning career, and the Darley shuttler remains their only stallion interest.

But in any event, the Lloyd Webbers appear to have done some shrewd purchasing from Cummings, and in a show of support for their stallion, they didn’t do it by halves. Along with trainers Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, and McKeever Bloodstock, they paid $1 million for her from the Vinery draft at the Gold Coast last January.

Racing in the same Watership Down colours borne by Too Darn Hot – pink with a grey sash – and part-owned by and named for the showbiz friend the Lloyd Webbers brought in, actress Lizzie Spender, widow of Australian comedian Barry Humphries – Too Darn Lizzie has recouped a third of that hefty purchase price in one start.

Cummings has conducted more business with the composer since. Sticking to a good thing, Too Darn Lizzie’s dam Enbihaar (Magnus) is back in foal to Too Darn Hot. Cummings gets an incredulous chuckle out of the connection.

“He’s a bit more prestigious than myself, Andrew Lloyd Webber, I can definitely say that,” the 54-year-old says. “And they’re certainly doing well with this stallion. He’s going gangbusters.”

Cummings is proud of his ancestry, but he hails from a pedigree in football richer than just the one auspicious great-grandfather. His father Percy played for Hawthorn, a great-uncle – also Percy – had 52 games as North Melbourne’s first indigenous player, and brother Trent played for Fitzroy also.

Rob’s at pains to point out he played just the one senior game, for Fitzroy against Melbourne in 1990, saying those relatives were “all much better than me”. So it wasn’t football that paved his entry to a seven-figure world of thoroughbreds – that came through his wholesale furniture importing business – but the horses have kept old footy mates together.

With his wife Sharon, he co-owns Enbihaar alongside former Carlton star Fraser Brown (along with other friends Rohan Ford and Steve Gilbert). Cummings and Brown each have a slice of Melbourne Cup runner-up Emissary (Kingman) and the Matt Laurie-trained colt Coleman (Pierata), who won Caulfield’s Debutant Stakes (Listed, 1000m) at his only start. Former players Brett Ratten and Shane Crawford are also among other explayers with whom he’s shared ownership, including in the Group 2-performed Mornington Glory (Shalaa).

Cummings is the leader of the pack in that department. His interest in horses has swelled in the past four years to the point where he’s now in the ownership of some 65 horses in training, plus around 20 broodmares, some of which he keeps on his 54acre farm at Moorooduc, near his home on the Mornington Peninsula.

“It’s good fun. I’m friends with a few footballers who are in my horses, and we’ve got a good small group of guys who’ve been very supportive of me,” says Cummings, who recognises the similarities across both sports – and one major difference.

“You just need a lot more money in breeding!” he laughs. “But it’s a similar sort of thing; it’s all about relationships, and if you work hard at it, hopefully you get a good result.”

He hasn’t been short of those either, a while back owning a share in Road To Success (Dolphin Street), who took the 2000 running of the Blue Diamond Stakes for another of Cummings’ friends, trainer John Salanitri.

More lately, some major results have come in the breeding game. Cummings took his interest in that field up a notch at the Shadwell Stud dispersal sale of 2021, with help from his advisor, bloodstock buyer Justin Bahen.

First, he bought the weanling filly Extremely Wicked (Zoustar) for $550,000. Then he bought her dam, Enbihaar, for $825,000. She hadn’t won the Blue Diamond, but she did run second in it, to Written By (Written Tycoon) in 2018, having won the Group 2 Prelude the start before. Shadwell had put her in-foal to Too Darn Hot, and after Cummings brought his three friends into her ownership, the result was an instant hit.

“She was only the first or second mare I bought, so that was pretty lucky,” says Cummings. “When the foal came out she was a nice type, and then Vinery did a terrific job with her.

“We thought we might get $500,000 for her, but then as the sale went on, I had a look at her one day and thought maybe she might get a bit more. But to get a million for her – we definitely had more than a couple of drinks that night.”

Cummings says he probably prefers the breeding side to the racing these days, partly because it’s a family affair with Sharon and their children keenly involved.

“It’s a great process to see, from picking out the stallions, seeing the foals being born, and then following through sales and all the way to the track,” Cummings says. “We don’t foal down ourselves, but we get them back to the farm as weanlings. It’s a great process for the family to see.”

For a first designed mating with Enbihaar, Cummings et al picked I Am Invincible (Invincible Spirit), the result being a colt bought by Mick Price, Rosemont and Suman Hedge last week for $700,000. The yearling was prepped and sold by Kulani Park’s Rhys Smith, another long-term associate, who Cummings calls “an amazing judge”.

Enbihaar had a year off after missing on return to Vinnie in 2022, but hopes are high for the second Too Darn Hot foal she’s now carrying.

Too Darn Lizzie stems from a pedigree light in recent duplications, with Mr. Prospector’s 5m x 5f alone in the first five removes.

Enbihaar, who has a double-male Danehill duplication in her third generation, has just a sprinkling of black type on her side, with her dam Charm’s Honour (Strada) winning a Brisbane Listed race, although fourth dam Rhys’ Star threw Group 1 Champagne Stakes winner Quick Star (Success Express).

Extremely Wicked, meanwhile, might not be in her half-sister’s class, with four placings for Matt Laurie from six starts so far, which can probably count as another big tick for Too Darn Hot.

The eight-year-old son of Dubawi (Dubai Millennium) is off to a flyer in Australia. He leads the first-season sires table by winners, with four from six starters, headed by the exciting Team McEvoy-trained filly Arabian Summer. Too Darn Lizzie’s Saturday windfall has him fourth among two-year-old sires by earnings, and second by winners.

Too Darn Hot covered a fairly typical 120 mares at Kelvinside last season at the same $44,000 fee he’s had through his four seasons here.

In Europe, his first crop includes the Group 1-winning filly Fallen Angel among four stakes victors. With 31 individual winners from 76 runners worldwide, questions are being asked as to whether he may already be too valuable up north for Darley to continue shuttling him – a prospect that could make his Australian stock even more valuable than they already are.

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