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Bart Cummings – the Australian Cups King

9 March 2022 Written by Andrew Lemon

The name Bart Cummings is of course synonymous with winning an incredible 12 Melbourne Cups. There is one Cup that he went one better in, however – the Australian Cup.

Racing writers started calling trainer Bart Cummings “the Cups King” in the late 1960s with three Melbourne Cups under his belt. In two of those first three victories, he also trained the runner-up.

The “Cups King” label came early because Cummings was producing a succession of winners of other Cup races in those halcyon years. Galilee gave him – besides the 1966 Melbourne Cup – a Caulfield Cup and a Sydney Cup. Fulmen won a Brisbane Cup and Adelaide Cup, Lowland a Sydney Cup, Big Philou the Caulfield Cup. These are just some of the Cups won by Bart, all before 1970.

In the following decade came four more Melbourne Cups. Think Big won twice, soon followed by Gold and Black and Hyperno. Then in the 1990s came Kingston Rule, Let’s Elope, Saintly and Rogan Josh. The perfect dozen was completed with Viewed in 2008. 

Twelve Melbourne Cups, including five Melbourne Cup quinellas: Australia’s most coveted and keenly contested race. Who could believe such a training achievement?

Yet there is one race where Bart Cummings went one better. This year, 2022, sees the 160th running of the Flemington autumn classic, the VRC Australian Cup. And Bart Cummings trained the winner of the Australian Cup no less than thirteen times.

Look back through the record books of Australian racing history. It is rare to find trainers who have made a mark on one particular Group 1 race with multiple wins over a training career with different horses. Sydney’s T.J. Smith, long-time rival  of Bart, accumulated seven winners of the Cox Plate (Bart trained five) and nine of the AJC Australian Derby. Smith’s daughter Gai Waterhouse has seven Golden Slipper winners to her name (Bart trained four).

Further back in time, James Scobie trained a record eight winners of the Victoria Derby (Bart trained five), but Bart Cummings holds the all-time record for the VRC Oaks with nine, and for the rich Flemington autumn sprint double – the (Black Caviar) Lightning Stakes (seven wins) and the Newmarket Handicap (eight).

Early in the twentieth century Jack Holt prepared eleven winners of the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield. James Scobie’s most successful event was the Ascot Vale Stakes, twelve times. In numbers, Bart’s thirteen in the Australian Cup trumps even these.

Over the space of four decades, the conditions of the Australian Cup changed around him. Bart was ever adaptable. When the chestnut gelding Arctic Coast narrowly won the first of these thirteen in 1968 against a talented field, the race was a 10 furlong (2011m) handicap. The winner was well in at the weights at 7 stone 7 pounds (47.6kg). When the proven Group 1 performer Sirmione won in 2008 – Bart’s thirteenth Australian Cup – the race was a 2000m weight-for-age championship.

In nine Australian Cups from 1973 to 1981, Bart Cummings’s horses won seven – Gladman 1973, Leilani 1975, Lord Dudley 1976, Ngawyni 1977, Ming Dynasty in 1978 and again in 1980, and Hyperno in 1981. Ming Dynasty’s first victory was under handicap conditions, his second at weight-for-age. 

These were class horses. So too were Bart’s subsequent winners, No Peer 1985, Let’s Elope 1991, Saintly 1996, Dane Ripper 1998 and finally Sirmione.

Most often the stories surrounding the late Bart Cummings are about the man, the character, the quirks and quips, the highs and lows of his career, his capacity to surprise. He was, as Les Carlyon put it, “The Master”. In the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, he’s a Legend.

But don’t forget the numbers. The statistics, the sheer scale of his success nationwide, still have the power to astonish. Twelve Melbourne Cups. Thirteen Australian Cups. Say it slowly. 

Image caption: Bart Cummings AM celebrate his tenth Australian Cup win, courtesy of the mighty Saintly in 1996. (Mark Munro/VRC Collection)

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