JJ Atkins made his mark

Jim Atkins portraits from throughout a celebrated training career which began in Grafton. PHOTO: APN
Jim Atkins portraits from throughout a celebrated training career which began in Grafton. PHOTO: APN

FROM April 3 this year, The Daily Examiner will be counting down the 100 days until the running of the 100th Grafton Cup on July 11.

The list of past winners is sure to include many great local stories from the rich history of the Clarence River Jockey Club, but there is perhaps no greater success to be unearthed than that of the Atkins family of South Grafton who won the 1931 cup with Verdonia.

Trained by Bill Atkins, and ridden by one of his son's (either Alby or Ambie, depending on what the initial A stands for in the record books), Verdonia scored at odds of 8-1, a healthy boost for local punters in the depression years.

But it was Bill Atkins' premature death from a heart-attack which launched the career of one of the greatest trainers to have ever saddled a horse in Australia.

Another of Bill's 12 children, Jim aged 20, was forced to take out his own trainer's licence upon his father's sudden death, and was promoted from strapper to trainer overnight.

But the task didn't daunt the young man, and after five years refining his father's methods in Grafton, he heard a chance remark that would change his future.

At the time it was believed that a trainer could never win the Brisbane trainer's premiership based outside of the city, and upon hearing such a conversation between fellow trainers, Atkins packed up and moved to Toowoomba where he set about proving them wrong.

JJ, as he was affectionately known, opened his account with a number of prolific winners, including Peacetime and Gay Composer each of which won 18 races, and Sumarco which won six in a row at the old Albion Park track.

After moving to Toowoomba in 1943, Atkins finally achieved his ambition of winning the Brisbane trainer's premiership in 1971-72.

Because of fuel rations, Atkins would regularly walk his horses from Toowoomba to Brisbane to race.

During that period, he also emptied his stable to enlist in the army for three years while he served in World War II in Papua New Guinea.

Atkins continued training into the 1990s and in 2010 was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame, alongside the biggest names of racing in Australia including Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings.

Sadly, Atkins died at the age of 94, just four weeks prior to his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Jim Atkins trained thousands of winners after his first winner Clarisolaus in 1936.

Big race wins included some of the best races in Australia, with races such as the Doncaster Handicap, Queensland Derby, All Aged Stakes, Chipping Norton, Turnbull Stakes, AJC Oaks and Brisbane Cup some of the more notable.

He also won over 20 Toowoomba trainer's premierships, a handful at Ipswich and five metropolitan premierships in Brisbane.

Given that we have just celebrated Australia Day, it is also worthy to mention that Jim was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his involvement in racing.

We will be researching plenty more great Grafton Cup stories from the past 100 runnings of the Cup, and we'd love to hear more great local stories.

Call in and see us at the office, call the sport desk on (02) 6643 0574, or email us at to share your story.

Topics:  grafton cup

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