James Bartholomew Cummings – the single greatest influence on the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s greatest horse race. Image courtesy of Symonetta Kouzmin.
There has probably never been a more iconic, more recognisable figure in Australian racing than Bart Cummings. The Cups King trained the winners of a record 12 Melbourne Cups and in five of those wins, also trained the runner-up. A bronze statue erected of him at Flemington Racecourse is testament to his status in Australian racing and the legacy he leaves.
Racing certainly has many heroes but there are few who transcend the sport. In fact, many famous racing people are anonymous beyond the racecourse gate. This was not the case with Bart. His silver-blue mane, sharp wit and relaxed demeanour were part of Australian folklore, a bit like Don Bradman’s baggy green cap; Charles Kingsford-Smith’s plane and Walter Lindrum’s billiard cue.
So are his 12 Melbourne Cups, dozens of Oaks and Derby triumphs and many champions – mighty horses like Saintly, Galilee, So You Think and Let’s Elope.
As a kid, fellow champion trainer Lee Freedman regarded Bart as a superstar. From the day Lee began training at Flemington, he kept an eye on his hero and his horses and tried to pick up as much information as he could.
“You’d be mad if you didn’t observe and try to learn from someone like him. He’s one of the best there’s ever been,” said Lee, adding that Bart’s personality also seemed to rub off on his equine team.
“Bart’s horses always seem[ed] at peace with their environment,” he said, explaining that patience was Bart’s greatest trait as a trainer.
“That’s what I think about when I think of Bart. You don’t win multiple Melbourne Cups without having a great deal of patience.”
Just some of the many champions to have come under Cummings’ care include Galilee, Let's Elope, Saintly, Light Fingers, Taj Rossi, Shaftesbury Avenue, Think Big and So You Think.
Cummings was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. He was awarded Legend status in 2008. He is also an inductee of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.