Upper Hunter racing community rallies for Darren Jones Family Appeal

“HE WOULD have been on Husonique,” Lesley Jeffriess simply said after her Husson gelding won Monday’s $20,000 XXXX Akwazoff Benchmark 49 Handicap (2050m) at Gunnedah.

She was talking of the late Darren Jones and after she had won a race named in honour of her father’s favourite and best horse – Akwazoff.

The renowned Akwazoff won three successive Gunnedah Cups in 1997-98-99, a feat unlikely to ever be matched.

A marvellous and adaptable horse also won a Grafton Cup and ran third in another of the Grafton features as well as winning two Armidale Cups, a Country Cup at Randwick, Uralla, Lismore, Walcha and Quirindi Cups. 

He also won at Newcastle, Rosehill, Canterbury and Muswellbrook.

The gelding son of Zoffany won from 1100m to 2400m and, in 136 starts, prevailed 36 times with another 31 placings and $499,581 in prizemoney for his owners, Mia and Neil Latimer and 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.

He had won that year’s Gunnedah Cup with 63.5kg, then won an open handicap at Quirindi with 69kg before Garry Baker rode him to a famous victory with 55kg in a brilliant and record breaking win over Dannemora and Mack N’ Me.  

All the time, Jeffriess was there with her father to organise and supervise his campaigns.

That her gelding Husonique won the Akwazoff Handicap at Gunnedah on Monday was a fitting reward with a gelding brilliantly ridden by Josh Adams.

He gave him the perfect rails run.

“He showed a good turn of foot,” Adams told Jeffriess after the win.

There was no big hoopla about the emotional win. 

No jumping around, no carrying on, rather a low key delight filled with pride and memory for a galloper revered by Jeffriess and many of us who were lucky enough to see him run and win races like his two Armidale Cups, three Gunnedah Cups and glorious Grafton Cup.

While her father wasn’t able to attend Monday’s Cup meeting, she was also thinking of another who couldn’t attend: Darren Jones.

He died from injuries in a race fall at Warialda on April 8 this year and, on Thursday night, the Tamworth Jockey Club will stage a Darren Jones Family Appeal at the Tamworth Racecourse.

When reminded of this night to support Jones’ widow Sheridan and two sons, Jacob and William, she replied: “he would have been riding Husonique today”.

Jones was the stable jockey for Merv Corliss and Jeffriess for about 30 years.

He had left Glen Innes as a teenager to be apprenticed to Corliss and “was only 16 or 17 when he arrived at home,” Jeffriess recalled.

“Would have been there earlier but he broke his leg,” she said.

“He’d been riding a bit of work for Clive Dixon up there (Glen Innes) and had a bad fall.”

She laughed too of the early days when he was a “big kid” growing up quickly in a racing environment.

Cocky, grumpy and cheeky, were words that could describe some of those early days.

Already more than 300 tickets have been sold and more than 100 lots will be auctioned by emcee Greg Radley, Simon Burke and Chris Dobie.

Radley will also interview special guests Hugh Bowman and Malcolm Johnston, two of the best jockeys to have graced the pigskin.

They will all honour Jones who died way too young at age 48 after more than 30 years riding more than 1000 winners all over the region and country.

“He was always a good rider,” Jeffriess said of Jones who was an even better person, father and husband.

Tamworth Jockey Club general manager Kay Jeffrey said 102 lots will be up for auction on Thursday night.

She said the response and support has been overwhelming.

“Quite humbling to have been part of the organising committee,” she said.

“A lot of people have got behind Darren’s family. 

“We’ve had a lot of NRL, AFL and boxing support too, the whole sporting family has come together to support them. It’s just not a racing thing. To have been part of the organising committee is an honour.”

Another supporter is Boggabri farmer and grazier Peter Rees.

He’s donated five bags of oats. Nothing big, he said, and probably worth about $750, he reckons.

He’s been a keen racing fan and owner for many years and raced some good horses with Mack Griffith and Craig Martin such as Binalong Road, Highway Handicap Schedule and recent Brisbane winner Puzzling Wonder.

“We’ve got plenty of oats out here, thought we could give a bit to Darren’s family,” he said at Monday’s Gunnedah Cup meeting.

“It’s for a great cause and I’m sure it will be a good night over there with Malcolm Johnston, Hugh Bowman and Greg Radley. They’ll tell a few stories for sure.”

Thursday’s benefit night starts 6pm with tickets $50 and available from the TJC (6765 9387).

If unable to attend but wish to donate, a donation can be made to the Darren Jones Family Appeal (BSB 932 000 A/c 000753692).