His family released a statement saying he had passed away peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his family at home in Sydney.
“His final moments were spent with his family and wife of 61 years, Valmae, with whom he celebrated their anniversary on Friday,” Cummings’ grandson and training partner James said.
“For Bart, aged 87, this was a fitting end. A husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather; a master trainer and a larger than life figure.”
An icon of Australian horse racing, Cummings prepared the winners of almost 7,000 races during his training career, which started in 1953.
He won virtually every major race on the Australian racing calendar including the Melbourne Cup, the country’s most revered race, a record 12 times, a feat which earned him the nickname the ‘Cups King’.
Known for his dry wit and big bushy eyebrows, Cummings transcended his sport, becoming a household name in Australia and the rest of the racing world.
“Australia has lost a sporting giant and a racing legend,” the country’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“Few people have dominated a sport like Bart Cummings did. He will be remembered as a truly great trainer, the winner of literally thousands of races.
“Twelve of those victories were Melbourne Cups and in five of those wins he also trained the runner-up, an extraordinary achievement. Race day will not be the same without him.”
Tributes began pouring in from all walks of Australian life and flags at racecourses around the country were lowered to half-mast.
“Bart was always in a league of his own. His larger than life character and sharp wit will be sorely missed,” said Peter V’landys, the chief executive of Racing NSW.
“Bart goes down as a legend in Australian sport, up there with the great Don Bradman.”
Born in the South Australian capital Adelaide in 1927, he spent his entire life around horses, despite being allergic to both the animals and hay, and being told by a doctor to find another profession.
His father Jim was a trainer who prepared the 1950 Melbourne Cup winner Comic Court. Cummings worked as a strapper for his father before taking out his own trainer’s licence in 1953.
“I jumped out of the stands, I was terribly excited I can tell you that,” Cummings told the ABC of that 1950 win.
“I’m just thankful my father talked me into being a horse trainer.”
Cummings landed his first Group One victory with Stormy Passage in the 1958 South Australia Derby and went on to saddle 268 Group One winners, 266 on his own and two with grandson James.
With the dual gifts of patience and the eye to spot a future champion, he won seven Caulfield Cups, 13 Australian Cups, five Cox Plates, four Golden Slippers and 32 Derbys and 24 Oaks. But his greatest success came in the Melbourne Cup, the famed 3,200 metre handicap “that stops a nation”.
He won his first Melbourne Cup in 1965 with Light Fingers, his second with Galilee in 1966 and his third with Red Handed a year later.
He won back-to-back Melbourne Cups with Think Big in 1974 and 1975, and won again with Gold And Black (1977), Hyperno (9179), Kingston Rule (1990), Let’s Elope (1991), Saintly (1999) and Rogan Josh (1999).
His last Melbourne Cup winner was Viewed in 2008.
Cummings set all sorts of records during his career and won training titles in three different states.
He also carried the Olympic torch before the 2000 Sydney Games and was the first person inducted in Australia’s Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.
Cummings had becoming increasingly fragile in recent years, and started spending less time at the track as he battled chest infections.
Leading Sydney trainer Gai Waterhouse said: “To all of us in the racing industry, Bart was a true icon. Everything that (he) envisaged was a success.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Julian Linden in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien/Sudipto Ganguly)