MORNINGS on the iconic Bondi Beach are a marvel: sunny, salt-speckled air can leave even the hungover backpackers who populate the hostel-dotted main road looking like gleaming supermodels in the right light.

So when Rob Archibald, his wife Francesca Cumani and their 20-month-old son Harry walk into their Sydney home in nearby Randwick, it is little surprise that they look ready-made for a magazine photo shoot.

Thing is, they don’t need to be. Former international polo player Archibald and Seven Network racing expert Cumani are the most glamorous couple in the already dazzling world of Australian racing — but today there’s not a skerrick of camera-ready TV “face” to be seen on Cumani, who is too busy popping her ever-smiling son into a high chair so he can munch on some corn kernels, his new favourite food.

And besides, those photo duties were already completed weeks earlier, halfway across the globe in England at Bedford House Stables, the family home in Newmarket where Cumani grew up — and where the family still spends half their year.

When they are not there at the pastoral spread some 100 kilometres north of London, the trio head back to Australia to fulfil racing duties and split their time between Sydney and a home in Scone, the rural New South Wales town known for racehorse breeding where Archibald was born.

“It’s funny how you can revolve your year — your life — around races,” Cumani tells Stellar.

Funny, perhaps — but for somebody like her, not exactly unusual. The daughter of Italian-born thoroughbred trainer Luca and his wife Sarah, the 34-year-old has been surrounded by horses since birth; the bedroom window of her youth still looks out upon a stable of them.

To those who have marvelled at her expertise since she first appeared on television in 2009, her knowledge of the racing world might seem astounding.

To Cumani, it’s simply second nature. “A lot of people I know have the same kind of knowledge and the same passion. So for me, it’s nothing unusual.”

She smiles. “I am just better at remembering horses and their names than people.”

Still, when mutual friends introduced Cumani to Archibald at a pub in 2012, their spark proved unforgettable. The two struck up a conversation but, as very busy strangers with global commitments do, fell off each other’s radar. Nearly a year later, Cumani and Archibald met again at a wedding. This time, things were different.

“Francesca thought I was quite shy at the wedding,” Archibald, 33, admits. “But something was there. We sat and spoke for a while, and we kept in touch from that moment. We got on very, very well.”

Eventually, the two started to date — or, as Archibald more succinctly puts it, “we basically spent almost every day with each other. Just like that”.

Cumani grins, and throws in some context: “There were no games.”

By the time the pair married in 2014, Cumani had already been visiting Australia on a regular basis for a decade. She brought a couple of her father’s horses to run in the Melbourne Cup, which she calls “more than just a race meeting — it’s all over the paper, the radio, the TV… it’s everywhere. It’s a public holiday. Nowhere else [on the international racing circuit] achieves that level of consciousness among the general public”.

As with so many international transplants, Cumani also spent months travelling — Perth, Adelaide, the Gold Coast and New Zealand were on her hit list.

She was a quick convert to Australia’s charms. “Oh, what’s not to love?” she asks.

“Look around you. Just this morning, we hopped in the car and drove to the beach. The lifestyle is amazing — there are better opportunities here if you work hard and have a positive outlook, especially when you’re younger. England can be a little bit closed.”

Her pedigree was a plus, but Cumani says when the Seven Network first asked her to appear on-screen as part of a panel in 2009 — when she was just 26, “I was obviously really excited but I was also a bit nervous: ‘Don’t know which camera to look at. Don’t know when I’m meant to say what…’ I had never done anything like that before”.

She believes the network wanted her to “add a bit of foreign flavour” to the proceedings, but in the years since, Cumani — like trainer Gai Waterhouse and jockey Michelle Payne — has transformed the female face of racing in Australia. But doing so, she points out, has not been without its share of frustrations.

“Sometimes it’s kind of insinuated that because of my sex, I probably shouldn’t know so much. Which is annoying! Because I don’t think you’d ever say that to Simon Marshall or Richard Freeman or anyone else.”

Cumani has also nabbed a regular commentator role on ITV back in the UK, makes regular appearances at local carnivals (next up: Magic Millions on the Gold Coast in January), buys and sells foals and advises people on which horses to buy and bring out for races.

All this, and yet, she says: “I do still feel [that] my equivalent as a man would get further, be listened to more, just have a bit more sway. Which I don’t like, and I don’t agree with. But unfortunately there is a bit of that.”

Cumani got another dose of those pesky, sexist double standards during this year’s spring racing carnival when she showed up at Derby Day in Flemington wearing the same dress as Jennifer Hawkins.

“We were in the middle of coverage,” Cumani recalls, “and [someone] came up to me saying, ‘Oh my God, you’re wearing the same dress as Miss Universe.’ And I was like, ‘Great.’”

She can now laugh at the memory. “By then it was so frigging cold, and I put a big black coat on. And then the press was like, ‘Supposedly she was made to cover up, because Jen Hawkins didn’t like it…’ Like, whatever!”

For a self-proclaimed “racing purist” like Cumani, the intense focus on fashion is something of a double-edged sword. She is naturally stylish; when she meets with Stellar, she is wearing a simple denim dress that seems elevated just because it is on her. But, she explains as she points to it, “I wouldn’t go to the races dressed like this. The pampering and the hats and all that — it’s part of racing. Even if I am going just socially, I think it’s right to dress up. It’s about being smart — and respect for the sport”.

Archibald marvels at his wife’s ability to marry the fripperies of racing with her own naturally down-to-earth approach to everything.

“She can be at her father’s stables, riding out,” he explains, “and she is completely at one with all the horses and grooms and everything. And then she can be in front of a TV camera, and she’s the same. She handles herself in both situations very easily.”

Archibald has himself begun to train horses, under the expert tutelage of Gai Waterhouse.

But while his and Cumani’s mutual love of all things equine is palpable when you talk to them, they insist it is not the dominant theme in their everyday life.

“Yes and no,” says Archibald. “I mean, we do talk about it a lot. But not all the time. It’s nice to share a passion but it’s not like we come and talk about horses every minute. But we do get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

When Magic Millions gets underway next month, their dual passions will merge — along with horse sales and the race meeting, polo has been added to the agenda, which pleases Archibald.

He points out that Katie Page and Gerry Harvey, the masterminds behind the event, “were looking to give people a few more things to go to and to make the week a bit more weighty. And they’ve done a great job in making that happen”.

For her part, Cumani is just glad to be in the warm Queensland sun.

“In England, the horse sales always take place in the middle of winter and it is freezing and everyone’s miserable. So this is quite novel.”

With Harry now beginning to act up, Cumani notes that he is ready for his afternoon nap — and starts to reflect on her own upbringing before considering whether she and Archibald want him to have a brother or sister.

“My brother now lives in Ballarat,” she says, “and Rob is one of three. I think people tend to veer towards who they grew up with, so for me it’s two kids.”

But, Archibald cautions, “we’re not putting any pressure on as far as that. We’d like another one but we won’t have a monster family, I don’t think. We’re too busy and too hectic”.

Cumani agrees — she is happy to be gainfully employed in support of her lifelong passion.

But she also adores motherhood.

“Just having come out of the ‘other side’ of Harry, when you kind of get your life back and everything’s back on track, it can be like, ‘OK, got to do it again.’

“Parenting is super rewarding. There are times when you’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ They get to you. And other times when you sit there, they just make you laugh, and everything’s great. [Yet] you have to be a bit more organised — just dealing with another person and having them as your first priority and responsibility.

“But it’s definitely life enriching when you wake up in the morning and you go and see them. And they’re there with a big smile and arms outstretched. There’s nothing better.”

This article was originally posted on The Daily Telegraph