There were plenty of horses to choose from to be the subject of this post commemorating the life and career of legendary Australian trainer Bart Cummings who died at the end of August aged 87. Should it be one of the record nine Horses of the Year which he trained, or perhaps one of the eleven horses who between them won a dozen Melbourne Cups, another record, which went a long way to earning him the nickname of the ‘Cups King’?
Three horses belong in both those lists – they were Melbourne Cup winners and Australian Horses of the Year – namely Hyperno, Let’s Elope and Saintly, which narrows down the selection process, but in the end it was Saintly who emerged as the obvious candidate. Saintly is also a member of another select trio. He was named by Bart Cummings himself as one of the three best horses he trained. The others were his second Melbourne Cup winner, the 1966 winner Galilee (whose eighteen wins also included the Caulfield Cup), and his dual Cox Plate winner So You Think who went on to have a highly successful second career in Europe with Aidan O’Brien.
Galilee and So You Think were bred in New Zealand, as were both the sire and dam of Saintly, but Saintly was bred in Australia by Cummings himself at his Princes Farm. The trainer retained part-ownership of the gelding who, like So You Think (and Viewed, the last of his Melbourne Cup winners in 2008), raced in the black and white checks with yellow sleeves of Malaysian businessman Dato Tan Chin Nam. Described as his ‘horse from heaven’, Saintly gave his name to Cummings’ stables at Flemington – Saintly Place – and it was fitting that Saintly, now aged 23, should have taken part in a tribute to the late trainer at a meeting at Randwick in Sydney earlier this month. Saintly has also spent some of his retirement at Living Legends in Melbourne where he was described as ‘a gentle giant, very relaxed around people, so very typical of Bart trained horses.’
When he won Cummings’ tenth Melbourne Cup in 1996, Saintly entered the record books as only the fourth horse to complete the double of the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in the same year, a quartet that includes the mighty Phar Lap of the 1930s. Also winner of the Australian Cup earlier in 1996 (the trainer’s thirteen wins in that contest also constitutes a record), Saintly was an intended runner in the Japan Cup just weeks after his Cox Plate/Melbourne Cup double but he fell ill on the eve of the race and had to be withdrawn. Saintly was to make only one more appearance, winning the C F Orr Stakes over seven furlongs at Caulfield. He sustained a tendon injury afterwards, and while there were hopes he would race again, Saintly was eventually retired for good in 1998.
Coincidentally, travel sickness had also put paid to Cummings’ attempt to win the Japan Cup with Saintly’s sire Sky Chase, Group 1 winner of the Champagne Stakes and Rosehill Guineas. Both the dam and grandam of Saintly, All Grace and Ziegfield Lass, were unraced but Cummings had good reason for buying the latter mare. She was out of a half-sister to another of Cummings’ Horses of the Year, Taj Rossi, who had been his first Cox Plate winner in 1973 as well as successful in the Victoria Derby the same year.
While Saintly was a gelding, there must have been high hopes for the stallion prospects of his Danehill half-brother Aucash. Cummings described Aucash as ‘just the type of young horse I usually would buy’, adding ‘but as the breeder I had a million good reasons for selling him.’ That was a reference to the A$1 million paid for Aucash to go and race in Hong Kong. He ended up winning seven races there at up to a mile but finished only sixth in the Hong Kong Derby over a mile and a quarter. Aucash was returned to Australia to take up stud duties but was not one of his sire’s most successful stallions.
Another relative of Saintly to earn a place at stud is God’s Own who was also trained by Cummings and raced in the colours of Dato Tan. God’s Own is by Danehill’s son Redoute’s Choice out of Angel In Disguise (a three-parts sister to Saintly, by Sky Chase out of Ziegfield Lass). God’s Own gained an extraordinary win in the 2005 Caulfield Guineas after being badly hampered in two separate incidents during the race. At stud, God’s Own has been responsible for several listed winners in Australia.
Bart Cummings’ grandson James has now taken over the training operation and may well have future members of Saintly’s family in his stable. In fact, on the same morning that Bart Cummings passed away, the broodmare Holy One (by Redoute’s Choice and out of Saintly’s half-sister Pure Grace) gave birth to a filly foal whose sire was Roman Emperor, the last of Cumming’s five winners of the Australian Derby.