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The Story of Mr Snugfit (abridged)

Twice placed in the Grand National, Mr Snugfit was one of the best steeplechasers I have trained here at New House Farm. The story is one of twists and turns and this is a very much abridged version of what happened.

In 1985 I was to come within a whisker of being the most famous racehorse trainer in the country for a few days.

The story began back in 1978 at the Newmarket yearling sales which I attended annually and from which I would source many winners.

As I ran my eye over the young horses that were being led around the ring I was approached by a tall smartly dressed gentleman.

"Michael Easterby?" he said to me, holding out his hand to shake.

"What the hell do you want?" I snapped back at him. "I'm here to buy some horses."

He introduced himself as Mr Adrian Greenwood, informing me that he had just purchased a colt and he was now looking for a trainer.

Mr Greenwood was in the rag trade in West Yorkshire, and his lifelong passion for racing had begun when he saw the great Nijinsky win the 1970 Epsom Derby on his way to securing the Triple Crown. From that point he had become hooked. He had later decided to buy a racehorse of his own, and it was at this point that our stories would become forever intertwined.

Mr Greenwood told me how he'd watched Mrs McArdy win the 1977 1000 Guineas and Lochnager crowned Champion Sprinter, and how he would like me to train his horse.

Of course the prospect of a new client was of significant interest and we headed to the stabling block where the young colt stood so that I could have a good look at him.

I cast my eye over him. He'd cost £1,200 with a plan to race on the flat and Mr Greenwood might just have found himself a bargain although perhaps not in the way intended.

"He'll take time," I told him. "He's a long term prospect, a jumping horse. You won't see him at his best until he's matured. He's got a lot of growing to do and it'll take time."

The horse was given the name 'Mr Snugfit' after the line of trousers that were currently being marketed by his owner, 'Snugfit Slacks'. I loved having a clothing manufacturer amongst my owners and I have to say that I looked very smart in the attire that was regularly brought by Mr Greenwood when he came to visit the horse. I became very partial to Snugfit Slacks in the late 1970s.

On 28th November 1980 Mr Snugfit won over hurdles in the snow at Leicester at odds of 14/1. The following month he went to Newcastle and won the Alnwick Castle Novices Hurdle, but these wins over timber were bonuses as the horse was born to jump fences, hurdling being just a stepping stone to the bigger obstacles.

Mr Snugfit went on to win nine races over fences between 1983 and 1985, the stories of which I'll leave for the book.But as the 1983/4 season drew to a close Adrian and I decided we would aim Mr Snugfit at the 1985 Grand National.

Any jumps trainer will tell you of their ambition to win the Grand National, and in Mr Snugfit we had a live contender. A National win puts you in all the newspapers and guarantees a steady stream of owners calling you up for the next few years. Mrs McArdy and Lochnager had put me on the map several years back and I was enjoying success with the new owners that these two flag-bearers had brought into the yard.

Mr Snugfit put in a round of jumping worthy of any showjumper, and hitting the front two out it looked like the market was right. I was shouting him on, I was sure at that the race was in the bag. Last Suspect, the horse that looked his biggest danger, made a blunder jumping the third last and Snugfit looked the horse to beat. At the elbow Mr Snugfit was clear and it was time to begin the celebrations. It was in the last 100 yards that Mr Snugfit emptied out.

Last Suspect had responded to the coaxing of jockey Hywel Davies and caught closing down Mr Snugfit he caught him in the final 40 yards. Last Suspect was flashing his tail all over, not happy at his jockey's demands, but he dug deep to win, leaving Mr Snugfit to settle for the runners up spot. Second place picked up a nice pot but it wasn't about the money, it was about winning a race that would be the pinnacle of a jumps trainer's career, and having it taken away in that manner.

Jockey Phil Tuck was distraught after the race as he talked me through the finish.

"I thought we'd won at the last boss", said Phil, "then this bloody great big black and yellow bumble bee flew past me just as we got to the post."

As the 1986 Grand National approached things were about to change as Mr Snugfit, the Grand National favourite, was purchased by one of the most flamboyant characters in racing. The whole tale has already been written, but when we get the book into print I will tell you the rest.

Posted: Friday 08 March 2019

Artwork by Tara Klein

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