When discussing the history of the time-honoured Tumbarumba Cup, the exploits of the now-retired Bob Burgun will always be at the forefront.
The prominent Tumbarumba trainer prepared some dogged performers over the years, mostly notably Aura Lad and Splendid Prince, horses that won 24 and 23 races respectively.
Burgun, now 83-years-of-age, was one of the more renowned trainers in the region during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. He won seven Tumbarumba Cups, and a swag of other Southern Districts Racing Association feature events, including the Tumut, Holbrook, Towong and Gundagai Cups.
Champion SDRA galloper, Aura Lad, kicked off Burgun’s brilliant run in Tumbarumba’s race, winning it in 1988, 89 and 90, and was ridden by Brett Fliedner on all three occasions.
“Aura Lad was something special, he won three,” Burgun said.
The locally bred gelding was by Aurilandy and out of Burgun’s good producing mare, Newtown Queen, and was a noted cup performer at the peak of his powers.
“He won the Tumut Cup, he won the Holbrook Cup, he won the Gundagai Cup and he won a few others, I just can’t remember them all nowadays,” Burgun laughed.
“He was a pretty handy horse, I bought the mare (Newtown Queen) off my mate who used to work in the shearing shed with us, and I bred him myself and towards the end there, I took him to Sydney, and he had three starts in Sydney for a second, third and fourth.
“I remember at Canterbury one day; he was going to win but got pipped by a 50/1 chance that never won another race.
“Everybody loved him. They used to go to the races just to see him, because he was a local horse that was locally bred.”
Aura Lad could have very well gone on to win more cup races, if it wasn’t for a freak accident that ended his career and life.
“At seven-years-old, I took him to Towong, and I reckon I was going to win the Towong Cup and we set him up nicely, but he went 200m or 300m and he broke his back leg and he never came home,” Burgun said.
“Losing Aura Lad and him breaking his leg broke my heart. It was just one of those freak accidents but I’ll never forget him.”
While Burgun dealt with the loss of his stable star, future Tumbarumba champion Splendid Prince was starting out his successful career in Queensland and Victoria with Bob’s son, Peter Burgun, before finding himself in Bob’s care in late 1992.
The prince Tattenham gelding, that was out of Splendid Romance, would also go on to win three consecutive Tumbarumba Cups, with Brett Fliedner winning the first one aboard him in 1993, while the late Brett Scott rode the local champion to victory in 1994 and 1995.
“Splendid Prince was another good one. He won here three straight and It would be hard to separate the two; they were both very good,” Burgun said.
Two years later and Burgun would again team up with Scott to win his seventh and final Tumbarumba Cup, with Aura Lad’s half-sister, Newtown Gal, winning the 1997 edition as a despised outsider.
“The year after Splendid Prince won it, I had another racing well (Newtown Gal), and I said to Brett, ‘you better be coming up to ride this one next year,’” Burgun laughed.
“He didn’t think she could win it, and even in the speech when he was getting the trophy after Newtown Gal had won, he said he thought she couldn’t win but bugger me dead, she won and Brett was a happy man.”
Newtown Girl was a handy galloper for Burgun, with the front-running type too quick for them on her home track, winning five races from 29 starts.
“She would go to the front and run them along and they couldn’t catch her going down the hill,” Burgun said.
One would have expected that Burgun would have worked his horses regularly on the Tumbarumba track, giving him the distinct advantage his horses seem to have held, but he explained that his horses rarely worked on the unique course, instead galloping them around town.
“They didn’t get worked there at all, the only time they were on the track was when they were racing or when they had a hit out there before the cup.,” Burgun said.
“We trained them on the roads around the town here. I would have the young fellas here riding the likes of Aura Lad and a couple we bought from Canberra, and we used to take them up the road, canter them up for seven or eight kilometres in the morning.
“These kids would come from the pony club and would have to go to school, so they would come up at 5am or 6am before school and they would canter them on the good spots.”
Despite all of his success on track, Burgun believes he wasn’t destined to be a trainer, instead inheriting the family business early on in life.
“When my dad (Robert Burgun) died, I took the farm and shearing contract over in 1964, and was busy with all of that,” Burgun said.
“He was only 57 when he died from cancer and I was only 22 or 23 at the time.”
Burgun’s involvement as a trainer only came about because of his son Peter Burgun, who is now a prominent Victorian trainer.
“I started in the early 80s, Peter my boy was in pony club and what have you, and I owned and bred the horses, and he started riding and working them,” Burgun said.
“I had to take a licence out because he wasn’t old enough to have a licence and he had just started an apprenticeship in carpentry and he used to do the horses.
“Once he got his licence, he started training here and I used to help him, then he shifted to Benalla and I carried on with the licence.”
The veteran trainer had to slow down in recent years, training the popular galloper The Good Mark, whilst caring for his late wife, Judith Burgun, who passed away late last year.
“I had to finish up just on account of my wife was crook for a couple years, and I was nursing her here at home and looking after her,” Burgun said.
“I trained The Good Mark, and he raced out here in Tumba but in the finish, I couldn’t handle the horse and Judith at the same time.”
While Burgun is officially unlicenced, he hinted he may be persuaded back into the sport with the right horse.
“I didn’t renew my licence and I’ve got it in my mind I won’t train again,” Burgun said.
“If I got onto a good horse and got a good strapper or rider, I would talk myself into having another go, but I just don’t know.”
While it won’t be the same without any Bob Burgun gallopers racing at the Tumbarumba Cup meeting on February 6 this year, the club will continue to benefit from his long-standing involvement, with track maintenance taking up most of his time nowadays.
“I think this will be the first time in nearly 40 years I haven’t had a runner on Cup day,” Burgun said.
“I’m still busy – I’ve been looking after the track ever since I’ve been on the committee and I’ve been on the committee for the last 40 years.
“I look after the track, I do the watering, mowing and all that and I’ve already cut it eight or nine times this year and I was only out there this morning (Friday) at 6am getting the water going on it and I’ll continue doing all of that while I can.”