MERV Corliss shuffles into his dusty old stables, the smell of lucerne and manure puncturing the air.
His memory’s not as dependable as it once was, but Merv – now 89 – still remembers the halcyon days when he was considered Tamworth’s very own “Cups king”.
When horses like Akwazoff, who strode to a remarkable 16 country cup wins in the early ‘90s, made the Corliss stable one of the most feared in the region.
And while he never threw a saddle over one on that famous Tuesday at Flemington, Merv has seen plenty of Melbourne Cups.
He remembers as a young boy hearing Phar Lap break records as the Great Depression was breaking lives.
“I was only a six-penny punter as a young fella but I always loved the Melbourne Cup, it’s a special day,” Merv said.
“There have been so many memorable ones over the years.”
In a sport that cherishes history and precedence, those memories are like gold.
“One that I remember very well was Kensei. He won a Grafton Cup and went on to win the big one,” Merv said.
“But it’s all changed so much; the Cup has become a rich man’s race now.
“You look at all the international horses and there’s no hope for a battling trainer to get a start anymore.”
Merv gave up the training caper a few years back but still pokes around the old stables at the back of his home on Racecourse Rd, now the training base for his daughter, Lesley Jeffriess.
Despite failing health, Merv will be make a rare trip trackside today to catch up with old mates and perhaps even give his old foes in the bookies ring a scare.
His tip for the big race?
“It’s a very, very hard race so my tip is not to try and be too smart ... anything can win,” he said.
“I just hope an Aussie horse wins and I’m gonna have a few bob each way on Fawkner.”