Desmond Shields McCormick (1905-69) was consistently among the top trainers of steeplechasers and hurdlers in Australia from the 1930s to the 1960s. He had conspicuous success in flat races too, his best horse being Carbon Copy, champion three-year-old in 1948/49. McCormick grew up on a farm near Wangaratta and began training with some success locally around 1926, mostly jumpers ridden by his older brother Hugh Roy McCormick.
In 1930 the brothers shifted to Mentone in Melbourne, winning several city jumps races with their first good performers, Whaka and Melton Star. Roy turned to training after a race fall in 1932, and the brothers worked separately. Roy’s untimely death in 1940 saw the two stables consolidated. Des took over the training of Dark David who later that year won the Australian Steeplechase at Caulfield while Kevastar took the Australian Hurdle. Widely admired for his horsemanship, Des McCormick also prepared horses for top trainers Jack Holt and James Scobie.
McCormick cemented his reputation as the top trainer of jumps horses in the 1940s with two Grand National Hurdle winners, Bay David (1945) and Eudunda (1947). Winterset, a true champion, won 11 steeplechases under heavy weights, his greatest win being the 1945 Great Eastern Steeplechase carrying 81kg.
On the flat, McCormick had success in rich Adelaide races in the 1930s with Yarramba and Highardo. The trainer’s most prominent supporters were brothers Abe and Hymie Silk, for whom he trained many top jumpers including Bay David and Kevastar. The Silks also raced Carbon Copy whose 14 wins included the 1948 Cox Plate and Australian Jockey Club Derby and the 1949 Sydney Cup.
With the retirement of his regular cross-country rider Laurie Meenan in 1949, McCormick considered ceasing training jumpers.
In 1951 he was recruited by businessman Tom Ryan to the United States as private trainer but returned home the following year because of visa complications. He resumed training at Epsom, mentoring Brian Smith as his stable jockey. Further success followed, notably with Sir Reginald Ansett’s Van Perri who won 18 steeplechases and one hurdle race – 14 of them at Moonee Valley.
McCormick trained a third Grand National Hurdle winner, Coltara, in 1963. The last of his good horses was Ansett’s Hot Sun who finished second in the Grand National Hurdle three times. Des McCormick’s success was attributed to a good eye in spotting potential, and long and patient schooling before racing horses over the fences.
”There is no more successful trainer of jumpers among the younger brigade — or the old hands for that matter — than Des McCormick”
Ormond, Sporting Globe