'His trade and track craft was on a different level' - tributes paid to 'handicap king' Reg Akehurst after his death aged 94

Reg Akehurst: trained successfully on the Flat and over jumps
Reg Akehurst: trained successfully on the Flat and over jumpsCredit: Unknown

Reg Akehurst was remembered on Tuesday as a trainer of rare skill and judgement as well as being a family man and passionate golfer after he died in Spain at the age of 94.

The son of a soldier, Akehurst entered racing as a jump jockey and rode 99 winners before switching to training in the 1960s. It was in this role that he left an indelible mark on the sport for his expertise in setting horses up to win top-level races on the Flat and over jumps.

Akehurst landed major handicaps such as the Lincoln, Victoria Cup, Royal Hunt Cup, Wokingham, Ebor and the Golden Mile often with the horses attracting considerable market support before doing so.

Seb Sanders steered Astrac to victory in the 1995 Wokingham at Royal Ascot for owner Clive Titcomb when apprentice to Akehurst. The former champion jockey said Akehurst’s ability to prepare a horse and his attention to detail were second to none.

Sanders said: “His trade and track craft was on a different level. When you were going around Folkestone or Brighton in one of those 16-runner races you had to know the track and have your tactics right – you couldn't just follow someone – and he was brilliant at knowing what to do. If you followed what he told you, you'd often win. 

“With Astrac, he won the Coral Sprint the autumn before and had a prep at the Guineas meeting. We knew he was going to Ascot in good order and Reg knew he had a couple of pounds in hand. It was a great day and it set me up for the season to be champion apprentice.”

Reg Akehurst: enjoyed considerable success in handicaps as well as in stakes races
Reg Akehurst: enjoyed considerable success in handicaps as well as in stakes racesCredit: Dan Abraham

Sanders went on to ride as stable jockey for Sir Mark Prescott later in his career and said there were similarities between the two trainers in how they approached their horses and planning.

He said: “For both trainers I rode a horse who won seven times – Masafi for Sir Mark and Ballynakelly for Reg – and there wouldn’t be too many trainers who could do that.

“It should've been eight for Reg, though, because I should have won the Cesarewitch. I rode a shocker that day and I remember Reg saying afterwards that he thought I was going to join him in the bar during the race I came so wide! That was the thing with Reg, if he blew a gasket – and that was rare – it was soon water under the bridge and you moved on. 

“I always felt when the guv'nor retired it was the end of an era as trainers of his calibre are so few and far between. He was a brilliant trainer.”

While his notoriety in big handicaps earned Akehurst the nickname ‘the handicap king’, he also enjoyed Group/Graded success on the Flat and over jumps before he retired in 1997.

His best performer on the Flat was Gold Rod, whose victories included the 1970 Prix du Moulin and Greenham Stakes. Akehurst also claimed the 1973 Coventry Stakes with Dolewood and the 1994 Rose of Lancaster Stakes with Urgent Request.

Over jumps, Bimsey won the 1997 Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle, while Dare To Dream landed the 1992 Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, the same course where Akehurst saddled Cool Ground to win the 1990 Welsh Grand National.

Richard Quinn: partnered Sarawat to an easy victory in the 1993 Ebor
Richard Quinn: partnered Sarawat to an easy victory in the 1993 Ebor for Reg AkehurstCredit: Edward Whitaker

Following his retirement, Akehurst assisted his son, John, who took over from his father at South Hatch Stables in Epsom. He later spent much of his time in Spain, although he continued to offer assistance to John during his treatment for cancer, from which he died in 2012.

Richard Quinn, who rode numerous winners for Reg Akehurst and partnered Capricho to victory in the 2002 Wokingham for John Akehurst, said: “Reg had the most lovely family and we didn't have a trainer-jockey relationship, we were friends. I loved him to bits. 

“Reg had a few two-year-old winners, he had Group and Graded winners but when he got an older horse he could improve them so much it was just amazing. He could do it with horses from any yard – he could do it with horses from Henry Cecil, Mary Reveley, really good trainers. He was always a big supporter of mine and I was one of his with owners. He was so good at getting those horses right in big handicaps.”

Akehurst remained active during his retirement in Spain, where he moved to benefit from the warmer weather and to indulge in his passion for playing golf. 

He is survived by his granddaughters, Sophie and Milly. He is predeceased by his wife, Sheila, and two sons, Murray and John.

Reg Akehurst

Full name Reginald Peter John Akehurst

Born Folkestone, Kent, July 4, 1929

Family Married Sheila Holdstock 1958; sons Murray and John (1961-2012)

First winner as jockey Grand Refrain (trainer Doug Marks) Plumpton, February 25, 1953

Riding career 99 wins over jumps (1953-62) including 1960 Worcester Royal Porcelain Chase on Beau Chevalet

Stables as trainer Tunworth Down Stables, Basingstoke, Hampshire 1962-65; Trainers House, Russley Park, Wiltshire 1965-67; Hillcot Stables, Epsom 1967-71; Bourne House, Lambourn 1971-78; Neardown, Upper Lambourn 1978-81, 1982-83; Lime Cottage, Upper Lambourn 1983-84; South Hatch, Epsom 1984-90, 1991-97; Whitcombe Manor, Whitcombe, Dorset 1990-91

First winner as trainer Enamoured, Wye, April 8, 1963

First Flat winner Sparrow Pie, Brighton, June 11, 1964

Group-class winners on Flat Gold Rod (1970 Greenham Stakes, Prix de la Cote Normande, Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, 1971 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte), Doleswood (1973 Coventry Stakes), Urgent Request (1994 Rose of Lancaster Stakes)

Grade 1 winners over jumps Dare To Dream (1992 Finale Junior Hurdle), Bimsey (1997 Aintree Hurdle)

Welsh National winner Cool Ground (1990)

Knights Royal & Ackermann Skeaping Hurdle winner Moyne Royal (1969-70)

Imperial Cup & Swinton Hurdle winner Inlander (1987)

Notable Flat handicap winners Nebris (1986 City and Suburban Handicap), Inlander (1987 Ascot Stakes), Fact Finder (1989 Lincoln Handicap), Sky Cloud (1991 Victoria Cup, Golden Mile), Croft Valley (1993 Lingfield Silver Trophy), Sarawat (1993 Ebor Handicap), Face North (1994 Victoria Cup, Royal Hunt Cup), Astrac (1995 Wokingham), Southern Power (1996 Ascot Stakes), Ballynakelly (8 consecutive handicaps including 1996 Newbury Autumn Cup dead-heat), Tregaron (1997 Victoria Cup), Red Robbo (1997 Royal Hunt Cup), Bahamian Sunshine (1997 Glorious Stakes)

Other notable winners over jumps Rabble Rouser (1969 KP Hurdle), Russian Affair (1988 Tote Placepot Hurdle), Solidasarock (1989 SGB Chase), Cool Ground (1991 Anthony Mildmay Peter Cazalet Memorial Chase), Amazon Express (1993 Tote Placepot Hurdle), Jazilah (1994 Top Novices' Hurdle)

Last winner Whispered Melody, Lingfield, November 18, 1997

Most wins in a season 56 in 1995 (Flat), 43 in 1988-89 (jumps)

Total wins in Britain 895 (564 Flat, 331 jumps)
Compiled by John Randall

Read these next:

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

'As a target trainer he was the best I've ever seen' - a punter's view of the legendary Reg Akehurst 

Peter ScargillDeputy industry editor