As he owns prodigious swathes of Yorkshire and has
amassed more wealth than most trainers ever will from their farming and
racing businesses, the irrepressible Mick Easterby concedes that although
he doesn't need the money, his ambition is to scoop the National Lottery
jackpot. "I'd get them Camelot chappies to pay me in tenners, and I'd
hoard every note," he says, rubbing his hands together. "I'd get far more
pleasure counting it every day than I would from spending it. I'd be quite
happy just to stare at it."
At 70, Easterby is as astute as ever in all matters financial. His
is a particularly noble expertise because he'll never stray from the truth
in pursuit of a gain, a fact confirmed by many of those to have come off
second-best to him. There are other ways. Easterby has never needed a
pack of cards to play poker. A classic example was his shrewd purchase,
as a foal, of the chaser Meadowbank, rated by the trainer as very similar
in every respect to Mr Snugfit, runner-up to Last Suspect in the 1985
In detail, Easterby relates the story of what he clearly regards as another
of his smartest transactions. "I went to the paddock with the breeder
with the intention of buying the Efisio foal Future Perfect, when out
of the corner of my eye I saw this other foal," he says. "I daren't risk
a second look because I thought the breeder might see I was interested
and bump up the asking price. It's vital to play it cool, you see, and
I didn't even ask what it was by.
"That one glance was enough for me, anyway. Everything was right about
that foal. I knew I had to have him. I'd have given whatever the breeder
had requested, and it was something of a coup that I got him for £2,750.
"Rarely have I been so keen on a horse-the last time was probably when
I bought Mrs McArdy as a yearling. She won us the 1,000 Guineas. Too many
trainers look at the pedigree before looking at the horse. When I bought
Mrs McArdy I got her in a package deal of eight horses for £6,000. I didn't
want the other seven, but if I'd picked her out the breeder would have
asked for more than £6,000 for her alone."
His story of the deal is authenticated as wholly accurate
by the other party involved, breeder Sarah Yorke, who has three mares
at Hutton Wandesley Hall, 20 minutes from Easterby's stable, although
she remembers that they shook hands-probably with a sealing cover of spit
from the trainer-at £3,000.
She says: "Mr Easterby is a very difficult man to do business with, but
at least when he buys one off me I can be certain I'll get my money on
the day he promises. I asked for £3,000, he gave me £3,000. He'll always
be welcome here, though I know he'll never make me wealthy.
"When Meadowbank won a couple of point-to-points the winter before last,
Mr Easterby kept telling me the horse was too slow to run under Rules.
After the horse's recent win at Wetherby, he'd revised that opinion to
'a bit special'. "On the day he bought Meadowbank, he also bought Future
Perfect. I'll never forget his face when the horse won first time out.
It wasn't fancied and he admitted to being in a state of shock."
Never a victim of depression, self-doubt or a sleepless night, and convinced
that he is going to live forever, Easterby's doctrine merits his own 'Good
Life' manual. Even at 70, every morning he "tingles with excitement from
head to toe" at the prospect of the day ahead. That has nothing to do
with that fact that the previous night he'd have sunk a pint at 10pm,
another at 10.30, and a third at 11. Three pints a night, in a pub or
at home, has been his routine for the best part of 30 years.
"Never once have I woken up in the night," he says with pride. "I sleep
like a pig and probably snore like one. I drop off into a state of unconsciousness.
You could take a pneumatic drill to my bedroom walls and I wouldn't stir.
"The secret of life is to keep looking forward and
never worry yourself about it coming to an end. Too many worry about dying
when they should be concentrating on living. The other important thing
is to always tell the truth. That's why I can sleep well. I always tell
the truth. "I'm on such a permanent high that some folk reckon I'm on
that wacky baccy stuff. I'm not. It's just that I enjoy the challenge
of the job so much. A day never passes without me thinking for a minute
or two how fortunate I am to be training racehorses."
Seeing an opportunity for some business, he adds: "Put in the article
that I'd like to train one of those French-bred jumpers. Everyone else
is, but I haven't got one. I like them because they have stamina. Of course,
they don't last as long as the others because the French start them off
so young. You can have a horse at its best early in life, or late in life,
but it's almost impossible to have the two."
Up at 6.45am for a breakfast of porridge and eggs, Easterby works with
the horses until lunchtime-sirloin steak and chips-and spends the afternoon
patrolling his various farms. Supper will be beans on toast, four poached
eggs, three slices of toast, duck or chicken. His favourite place for
a night out is York's Mount Royal Hotel, where, summer or winter, he'll
get stuck into Pimms No 1.
"I need to eat a lot because I put a lot of energy into everything I do,"
he explains. Although best known as a Flat trainer, he won the Triumph
Hurdle 25 years ago with Peterhof (bought for 800gns out of a York seller)
and prefers jumping, identifying it as the perfect sport. "Everything
about it is so beautiful and I regard it as the perfect game. Apart from
that, I like jump jockeys far more than those Flat boys because they're
braver and don't do so much squealing."
He adds: "There isn't any mystery about training horses. You can either
do it or you can't, simple as that. One thing's for certain, though, it's
impossible to turn a bad trainer into a good trainer. "The best advice
I can give to all up-and-coming trainers is to keep veterinaries out of
their yard. They mislead you."
Easterby insists his retirement as a trainer will coincide with notification
of his death. He says: "Word will go round that poor old Mick has died,
and some will say 'thank God for that'."
Others will mourn the passing of a unique character who brought such rich
colour to the sport, and was a darned good trainer, too.
Meanwhile, he says he'll continue to live as if he'll be around for forever.
More Mick Easterby here.