Precedence: Best in show

20 October 2023 Written by Patrick Bartley

As a racehorse, Precedence stood out for his impressive race record but also for his spirit and never-give-up attitude. In retirement, he has used those attributes to transform into a beloved show horse.

The remarkable racehorse

From champion sprinters to history-making stayers, the Cummings brand name has become synonymous with racing success throughout Australia. However, there was one racehorse that captured the attention of Bart Cummings, his grandson James, and the staff at their Sydney and Melbourne bases, as well as the racing community at large.

The Cummings yards have produced numerous horses with varying abilities, but Precedence, a tough and resilient galloper, truly stood apart. His relentless approach to competition enabled him to secure 10 victories from 69 starts, accumulating nearly $2 million in prizemoney. The four-time Melbourne Cup starter also finished in the top 10 of the race three times.

The emergence of Precedence

Precedence initially attracted little attention during his early training at the Flemington stable. However, it was upon his move to Sydney, where he trained daily at Randwick, that both Bart and his then-fledgling trainer grandson, James, began to take notice.

Described as a regal horse, Precedence possessed a proud carriage, impeccably proportioned physique, and exemplified the epitome of a magnificent racehorse.

Acquired from New Zealand, Bart chose to race Precedence in the colours of Sir Patrick Hogan as a testament to the breeder’s significant contributions to the Australasian racing world, highlighting their gratitude and respect.

Precedence held a special place in James Cummings’ heart, representing the ‘handing over the baton’ from his grandfather, the legendary Bart Cummings. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

A bond between generations

Precedence played an additional role in establishing a profound connection between Bart and his grandson, James, during the early stages of their training partnership. As Bart gradually scaled back his involvement, James embarked on his own journey, and Precedence represented the baton being passed from one generation to the next. The 2010 Moonee Valley Cup victory, Precedence’s first under James’ training, validated Bart’s high regard for the horse and showcased his potential.

“Bart was slowing down and I was just starting and there was Precedence when we were handing over the baton. Bart had a very high opinion of this horse,” said Cummings.

The evolution of Precedence

Cummings junior was surprised by the profound impact Precedence had on both the Melbourne and Sydney stables, quickly becoming a favourite among all who encountered him.

“I know the horse didn’t win a Melbourne Cup, but he won a lot of hearts on his way to competing in four of them,” James Cummings remarked.

While Precedence initially exhibited a tendency to be headstrong and difficult to control during races, as he matured and underwent various adjustments, he gradually calmed down. This transformation allowed him to secure an impressive tally of 10 wins across two states, a testament to his remarkable ability and adaptability.

Fiona McIntyre and Precedence competing at the Garryowen Equestrienne Turnout, September 2022. (Jay Town/Racing Photos)

Retirement and a new chapter

At 10 years old, Precedence retired from racing, marking the beginning of a new phase in his life. His farewell race at Sandown (where he was ridden by Michelle Payne) evoked emotions among the staff, particularly Reg Fleming, who had cared for Precedence during his time in Melbourne. The impact that Precedence had on everyone involved was profound.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house, that’s the sort of impact he made on us,” said Cummings.

A transition to a show horse

Fiona McIntyre, a distinguished rider and rehoming expert in Australia, played a pivotal role in Precedence’s transition from the intense and competitive world of horse racing to a new career as a show horse. Remarkably, Precedence quickly adapted to the distinct disciplines required of a show horse, showcasing the qualities necessary for such work.

According to McIntyre, Precedence initially found the transition strange but soon grew accustomed to the daily routine of being a show horse. While he occasionally displays a spirited side and requires monitoring during performances, his overall transformation has been remarkable.

“I know that he can get up on the steel a bit, but that’s a side of him that I just keep an eye on. It’s a little bit like the makeup of himself. He’s going along beautifully one day and putting his heart into it and then the other days is that mood of ‘I want to stay home for the day’ instead of working in the ring,” said McIntyre.

Known for his striking appearance, Precedence never fails to captivate audiences upon entering the show ring. McIntyre shared that at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and Melbourne Royal Show, former members of the Cummings stables specifically attend to see Precedence, emphasising his enduring impact on people’s lives.

“Right through his career, he has made such an impact on so many people and that’s not even including his success on the racecourse,” she said.