Victory still charms Merv
By TONY WHITE
OCTOGENARIAN Merv Corliss has been heading to the July Racing Carnival in Grafton since he first placed a bridle over a thoroughbred's head.
And the Tamworth-based trainer has figured prominently in carnival history, most notably with 1997 Grafton Cup winner Akwazoff, who also finished third twice in 1996 and 2000.
Yesterday, Corliss, 81, ensured his impact on the Grafton Cup's rich history would continue when five-year-old gelding Victory Charm scored a dramatic last-stride win in the $12,000 Westlawn Finance Grafton Cup Prelude (2200m).
In a thrilling finish before a massive crowd, Victory Charm, ridden by Scott Thurlow, gunned down last year's Prelude winner Extra Dollars (Adam Nicholls) in the shadows of the post.
The judge needed two prints to separate the pair, with a nose the official winning margin. Grafton galloper Dream Walker finished third. Victory Charm will now take its place in Thursday's $160,000 XXXX Gold Grafton Cup (2400m).
Corliss calls Grafton his second home.
"I've been coming to Grafton for 100 years," he said with a grin after the race. "You always dream of having a Grafton Cup runner. I've had a lot of fun over the years and it isn't over yet.
"I'm 81, still drinking, swearing and enjoying myself.
"This (the win) is fantastic."
There was drama before the Prelude when clerk of the course, Steve Baker, suffered a broken leg. The Cathleen Rhode-trained Unrased A Charm reared, and attempted to strike Baker's mount behind the barriers, resulting in Baker's horse reeling backwards, falling and crushing Baker's leg. Unrased A Charm was declared a late scratching after breaking away.
The Prelude was delayed for 15 minutes while another ambulance was called to the course to transport Baker to hospital.
Victory Charm is raced in the same interests as Akwazoff. The son of Victory Note out of Charm And Chase was bred by Neil Latimer and his late wife Mia, who both raced Akwazoff with Corliss.
"We go back a long way," Corliss said of his association with the well-known Tamworth owner-breeder.
"We've raced a lot of horses together and had a bit of luck.
"Sometime back I said I was thinking of setting him for the Grafton Cup, but you never know.
"He's definitely in the cup now. This was what today was all about.
"We had a little plan and so far its come off. I must be a terribly lucky bloke."
Victory Charm took his record to 10 wins and 14 placings from 40 starts and has now won more than $70,000.
Corliss said he wouldn't do much with the gelding leading up to Thursday.
"He's on the mark, I've just got to keep him ticking over," he said.
"Scott's agreed to ride him and that's great.
"You know that finish was very close, but I thought he'd just won."
Victory Charm officially started at $8, Extra Dollars $9 and third placegetter Dream Walker, trained by Bob Gosling, at $16.
The $2.50 favourite Meteorite disappointed, finishing ninth, which continued a rocky road for the Phil McLeod stable and jockey Allan Robinson, the stars of last year's carnival and giant local horse Concitare dropped out, after being handy early, to finish 11th.
Clarence River Jockey Club chairman Bob Pavitt said yesterday's opening was a fabulous start to the carnival.
"Without doubt it was the biggest crowd we've ever had for Westlawn Day and there was a huge buzz around the racecourse," he said. "It augurs well for a great carnival."