Obituary: Reg Akehurst, a shrewd dual-purpose trainer for three decades with a long list of big wins

Bimsey: the best hurdler trained by the late Reg Akehurst
Bimsey: one of the best hurdlers trained by the late Reg AkehurstCredit: Abraham Dan

Reg Akehurst, who has died at the age of 94, was a shrewd dual-purpose trainer for three decades with a long list of big-race victories.

After a career as a jump jockey he became a master of the art of preparing handicappers for specific targets, and he also trained top-class horses on the Flat and over jumps.

His best winners were Gold Rod (Prix du Moulin) and Cool Ground (Welsh National), notable hurdlers Moyne Royal and Bimsey, and the versatile Inlander.

Reginald Peter John Akehurst was born in Folkestone on July 4, 1929, the son of a soldier. He did his National Service in the RAF and then got involved in show-jumping before becoming a jump jockey with trainer Doug Marks.

His first winner was Grand Refrain in a Plumpton chase in 1953, but he never reached the front rank of that profession and retired from the saddle in 1962 with a career score of only 99 wins.

Akehurst started training later that year at Tunworth Down, near Basingstoke, the first of eight different stables he occupied during his career.

The best hurdler he ever trained was Moyne Royal, who landed the Knights Royal Hurdle at Ascot in 1969 and the Ackermann Skeaping Hurdle at Sandown in 1970, and was pipped on the post by Bula in a Sandown handicap.

Gold Rod proved himself the best horse of the trainer's career in 1970, when he triumphed in the Greenham Stakes (by four lengths), Prix de la Cote Normande and Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, and came second in the St James's Palace, Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Lester Piggott, who had lost the Arc on Nijinsky half an hour before, rode an inspired race on Gold Rod in the Moulin. He took an early lead, kept enough in reserve to repel several strong challenges, prevailed by a neck from Faraway Son, and survived an objection.

Reg Akehurst: trained successfully on the Flat and over jumps
Reg Akehurst: enjoyed great success with Gold Rod in 1970Credit: Unknown

The remarkably tough, game and consistent Cinderella horse continued to outperform his plebeian pedigree as a four-year-old, when he won La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte, and was second to Brigadier Gerard in the Goodwood Mile (beaten ten lengths) and to Faraway Son in his defence of the Prix du Moulin.

Bred and owned by former point-to-point trainer Charlotte Dickson, Gold Rod failed to win as a five-year-old in 1972 but was still good enough to run Brigadier Gerard to a length in the Eclipse Stakes on rain-sodden ground. When the Brigadier suffered his only defeat (to Roberto) in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup at York, he beat third-placed Gold Rod by 17 lengths, although the official margin was only ten.

Akehurst won the Coventry Stakes with Doleswood in 1973, but there followed a lean spell during which he moved stables several times. He even left racing altogether for a year (1981-82) because he could not make it pay.

He moved to South Hatch stables in Epsom in 1984 and his fortunes revived thanks to his ability to get the best out of a wide variety of horses, most of them cast-offs from other trainers.

The dual-purpose nature of his operation was embodied by Nebris, who landed the Free Handicap Hurdle and City and Suburban Handicap, and by Inlander, who in 1987 won the Imperial Cup, the Swinton Hurdle and, by ten lengths, the Ascot Stakes before being sold to race in the US, where he became that year's champion steeplechaser.

Inlander's Imperial Cup was the first of three big handicap hurdles Akehurst won on consecutive Saturdays. He trained very few steeplechasers but took the SGB Chase at Ascot with Solidasarock in 1989.

In the summer of 1990 he accepted an offer from property tycoon Peter Bolton to train at his lavishly equipped 1,000-acre Whitcombe Manor estate in Dorset, replacing Richard Mitchell.

During his single season in Dorset he exploited the handicap marks given to the improving Cool Ground in the Welsh National and Anthony Mildmay Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase. Ridden by Luke Harvey, Bolton's gelding triumphed by seven lengths in both races and then came fourth to Garrison Savannah in the Gold Cup.

By the summer of 1991 Akehurst had fallen out with his landlord and returned to South Hatch, thereby missing out on Cool Ground's Gold Cup victory the following March. The glory went to Toby Balding, his short-term successor at Whitcombe Manor.

Akehurst's reputation for big-handicap wins was further enhanced by Sky Cloud (Victoria Cup and Golden Mile), Face North (Victoria Cup and Royal Hunt Cup) and Astrac (Wokingham).

Reg Akehurst: enjoyed considerable success in handicaps as well as in stakes races
Reg Akehurst at his South Hatch stables in 1997Credit: Dan Abraham

That typecasting may have been the reason Akehurst never attracted the top owners he deserved, but he did train Royal Ascot handicap winners Southern Power and Red Robbo for the St George family's Lucayan Stud.

He also trained for Chelsea FC vice-president Alan Spence, winning the Lincoln with Fact Finder and the Queen Alexandra Stakes with Admiral's Well.

Another of his owners was retired casino owner Stewart Aitken, for whom he trained three notable winners – Sarawat (Ebor), Jazilah (Top Novices' Hurdle) and Urgent Request, a grey who was his best Flat horse since Gold Rod.

Urgent Request led all the way in the Rose of Lancaster Stakes and came second in the Hong Kong International Vase in 1994 before being transferred to California, where he won the Santa Anita Handicap.

The trainer pulled off a surprise win in the Aintree Hurdle with Bimsey in 1997 and retired at the end of that year, having trained the winners of 895 races in Britain, 564 of them on the Flat.

In 1958 Reg Akehurst married Sheila Holdstock, who proved an immense support in his career, organising the paperwork and coping with constant changes of address.

They had two children, Murray and John. John Akehurst trained Wokingham winner Capricho at South Hatch but died of cancer in 2012, aged only 50.

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