GUNNEDAH Jockey Club couldn’t have picked a more fitting time to honour the grand Tamworth galloper Akwazoff than Sunday’s Gunnedah Gold Cup meeting.
The GJC will stage the XXXX Gold Akwazoff Benchmark 55 Handicap, a 2050 metre race in memory of a horse who won three successive Gunnedah Cups in 1997-98-99.
A few years ago the club looked to add a feature race to its Cup meeting as a support race to its Cup and Lightning features.
They didn’t have to look far to find Akwazoff.
Not many horses can win three major Cups, let alone in succession and with big weights.
Akwazoff was a marvel.
The gelding son of Zoffany won from 1100m to 2400m and in 136 starts won 36 times with another 31 placings and $499,581 in prize money for his owners, Mia and Neil Latimer and Tamworth trainer Merv Corliss.
His wins spanned seven seasons, from a 1200m Tamworth maiden on November 14 1992 to the 2300m Lismore Cup on September 22, 1999.
His most famous win was the 1997 Grafton Cup. Garry Baker rode him to victory that day in one of the most simple and perfect rides imaginable.
Baker only went around one other horse on his way to a brilliant and record breaking win over Dannemora and Mack N’ Me.
As well as a Grafton Cup, the horse won a Country Cup at Randwick, two Armidale Cups (also finishing second to Captain Starlight in two others), a Uralla Cup, a Walcha Cup, a Quirindi Cup and a Lismore Cup. He also won at Newcastle, Canterbury, Rosehill and Muswellbrook.
“He was an incredible horse,” said Gunnedah Jockey Club secretary manager Mark Storey.
“He won three Gunnedah Cups here in a row and then went on to win a Grafton Cup after his first Cup win in 1997. He won with 63.5 kilograms here, then went and won a Quirindi Open with 69kg and then won the Grafton Cup with 55kg.
“He did drop 14kg weight. Not many trainers would even think of making their horse carry that sort of weight (69kg) today.”
Corliss, 92, was a well respected, leading and successful trainer long before Akwazoff came along. He had trained his mum, Akwitana, a brilliant sprinting mare, and recognised the ability in Akwazoff at a young age.
Garry Baker was a young jockey at the time and rode Akwazoff to a number of Cup wins including the 1997 Grafton Cup as well as two Armidale Cups and Walcha and Quirindi Cups. He remembers them all.
“Wow.” That was his first reaction when reminded about the horse’s record. I didn’t realise he had won three Gunnedah Cups in a row,” he said. “I was talking to Merv at Darren Jones’ funeral and he said a picture of Akwazoff and I winning the Country Cup at Randwick has pride of place at home.
“The Grafton Cup win was great too (2mins 25.76secs). I think we beat Kensei’s old Cup record … Merv had so many good horses over the years too,” he added. “There were none better (than Akwazoff and Corliss).