Bart Cummings, AM: master trainer, sporting legend

Among the many honours received by James Bartholomew Cummings – the AM, the Hall of Fame inductions, the postage stamp and the state funeral – was one much rarer than the others.

Nickname-only status is given in sport to the very few people whose professional excellence is matched by public respect and affection. “Bart” is famous throughout Australia as the man who dominated the Melbourne Cup, and much of the rest of Australia’s Group 1 racing for half a century.

The 12 Melbourne Cups, bracketed by two of the great race’s closest victories, by Light Fingers in 1965 and Viewed in 2008, are more than enough to ensure fame well beyond the extraordinary 87-year life which ended peacefully on 30 August at Princes Farm in New South Wales.

The remainder of Bart’s Group 1 record elevates him to a place where he has very few companions indeed. Only Tommy Smith prepared the winners of more Group 1 races, 279 to Bart’s 268.

Consider this: horses trained by Bart won 57 (79%) of Australia’s 72 current Group 1 races. In fact, he had won 42 of them at least once by the end of the 1977/78 season – with another 37 seasons to go.

By the end of 2014/15, the second of the two seasons Bart trained in partnership with his grandson James, he had, remarkably, won all but 15 of the Australian races currently given Group 1 status.

Hallowed Crown – so aptly named – ticked off the last Group 1 race Bart had not previously won, with his Golden Rose Stakes victory in September 2014. He added the the last of Bart’s Group 1 victories, the Randwick Guineas on 7 March 2015, 57 years after Stormy Passage opened the batting in the 1958 South Australian Derby.

In the end, only three Group 1 races in Sydney eluded the master trainer: the Canterbury Stakes, the Queen of the Turf Stakes and the T.J. Smith Stakes – all raised to Group 1 standing only within the past decade or so.

The Melbourne Cup was just one of 52 Group 1 races won more than once by Cumming-trained horses. His dozen trophies from the Race that Stops the Nation are exceeded by his 13 Australian Cup wins, by Arctic Coast, Gladman, Leilani, Lord Dudley, Ngawyni, Ming Dynasty (twice), Hyperno, Noble Peer, Let’s Elope, Saintly, Dane Ripper and Sirmione.

He also won four of the five Group 1 2YO races at least twice, and the Golden Slipper four times (with Storm Queen, Tontonan, Vivarchi & Century Miss).

Sixteen of Australia’s 17 3YO Group 1 races appear on the Cummings record, including the South Australian Derby (10 times, from Stormy Passage to Shiva’s Revenge), VRC Oaks (9 times, from Light Fingers to Faint Perfume) and Australian Oaks (7 times, from Light Fingers to Danendri). In all, he won 32 Derbys, 24 Oaks & 16 Guineas in six states of Australia.

Bart’s success in the big sprints was equally impressive: a record eight Newmarkets, seven Lightnings, six Victoria Racing Club Stakes (Darley Classic), four Stradbrokes, three All Aged Stakes, three Doomben 10,000 wins, two Oakleigh Plates and two Galaxys. 

Ditto the famous miles: six Cantala (Emirates) Stakes wins, five Doncasters and three Epsoms. And, as well as the Australian Cup, the best weight-for-age races beyond a mile: 11 MacKinnons, six Caulfield Stakes, five Underwoods, five Cox Plates (with Taj Rossi, Saintly, Dane Ripper & twice with So You Think), three Queen Elizabeth Stakes (with Lowland, Ngawyni & Ming Dynasty between 1969 and 1978) and two wins in each of the BMW and the Ranvet Stakes.

Major staying success was achieved beyond Flemington too, in the Caulfield Cup (seven wins) and the Sydney Cup (three wins), as well as the Adelaide (4), Brisbane (2) & Perth (1) Cups, which no longer have Group 1 status.

Among the horses that compiled this spectacular history are nine Horses of the Year: Dayana (1973), Taj Rossi (1974), Leilani (1975), Lord Dudley (1976), Maybe Mahal (1978), Hyperno (1981), Beau Zam (1988), Let’s Elope (1992) & Saintly (1997).

Several others qualify as outright or category champions, notably Dane Ripper, Shaftesbury Avenue, Campaign King, Sky Chase, Bounty Hawk, Ming Dynasty, Galilee, Lowland, Light Fingers and the exceptional colt who delivered a final flourish in the twilight of Bart’s career, So You Think.

Four Redoute’s Choice sons and daughters also appear on the Bart Cummings Group 1 honour roll: Allez Wonder (Toorak Handicap), God’s Own (Caulfield Guineas), Dariana & Empires Choice (Queensland Derby).

Like Bart himself, many of his wonderful horses now have stakes races named after them. They include Cap d’Antibes, Century, Dane Ripper, Galilee, Let’s Elope, Light Fingers, Maybe Mahal, Shaftesbury Avenue, Sheraco, Storm Queen, Tontonan, and Ming Dynasty whose race at Randwick last Saturday was renamed as a tribute to his trainer. 

The last winner sent out under Bart’s name, at Wyong on the day he died, was the 4YO mare Muy Bien, who posted her second win for Gooree Stud. Muy Bien is Spanish for “very good” – exactly the kind of brief, under-stated comment Bart often made in response to inquiries about his horses. 

It is perhaps all he might choose to say now, from his new, and no doubt lofty vantage point, to answer a question about how life on earth turned out for him. His record stands – the superlatives are all ours to add.

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