by Tom O'Ryan
taken from the Racing Post
When God created Mick Easterby, he obviously threw away the mould.
Within minutes of climbing into his huge Mercedes, Yorkshire's very own son
has steered off the road into a grass field and carried on through a ploughed
one. Talking the whole time. About anything and everything. "Yer know sum'it?"
he says, "if you just trained 'osses all a'time, you'd go bloody mental. When
yer've got an active brain like mine, yer must have a switch-off.
"I go round't farm. Farmin's easy. It's pure common sense, whereas
in racin' , there's so much unforeseen, horses goin'wrong. Most o't time, I
love it. But if yer did nowt else bar train 'osses you'd go off yer'ead."
Play questions and answers with Easterby and never the twain shall
meet. What do you think about..? And off he goes again on a completely different
tangent. By now, we're in the same car. But in a different field.
"When I first came to Sheriff Hutton in 1955, I had a rented yard
and about 12 'osses. See that field there? I used to take me 'osses in there
every morning at six o'clock and gallop'em. Gospel truth, I did it for four
years and' t farmer who owned't field never even knew I was using it!"
He heads off into yet another field and switches to yet another
subject. "Do you want to know how to make money. Inflation, that's how to make
money. Yer'll never make money by working, because yer taxed on it. Well, yer
can make it, but you can't keep the stuff, can yer? Yer've got to buy things
and keep things to make money. That's the secret. Let inflation take care of
"I bought land. Every chance I got. I love land. Yer know why?
Because nobody can pinch land. They can walk on it, but they can't take it away.
They can pinch yer car, pinch yer horse, pinch yer cattle and pinch yer sheep.
But they can't pinch land. That's why I love it so much."
He's also got plenty of it. Quite how much, he's not prepared
to say, but from the next field, looking down from a spectacular hilltop, he
owns everything the eye can see - even with a pair of binoculars. He buys farms
like the rest of us buy cornflakes.
"I can't help meself," admits the man in the frayed shirt and
old patched sweater. I'm a joke, really."
Blunt and bold, wise and witty, crude and colourful, Easterby
is very much his own man. It has been claimed that one of his speciality spits
can hit the toe-cap of a well-polished boot at 20ft.
And he doesn't care whether he's in the company of princes or
paupers when he does it. Not that you'd know it by the way he goes on but he
was 68 in April. He promptly sang Happy Birthday to himself over the loudspeaker
at Newcastle races. It was a typical high-spirited Easterby stunt. Most of the
others are unprintable.
"Yer don't need to spend a lot of money in life to enjoy yerself.
It's good company yer need," he says. "I love beer," he adds, smacking his lips.
"Beer is ... relaxing. It stops yer brain ticking. I go to't pub every night.
Two or three pints and I sleep like a log. Yer could take t'roof of me house
and I would't know yer'd taken it. And next morning, I wake up as fresh as a
You'd need to get up early to put one over on him. "What you need
in this game is an eye to buy winners. It's simple to go to't sales and spend
big money on an 'oss, a half-brother to this, or a half-sister to that. Anyone
can do that. But it's not how much yer can spend, it's how little yer can spend.
I just love buying a cheap 'oss and making it a good 'oss."
"What was your best-ever bargain?" I ask, expecting him to opt
for his 1,000 Guineas winner Mrs McArdy (bought in a job-lot of ten for only
6,000 guineas) or his champion sprinter Lochnager, a mere 600 guineas purchase?
"Good 'ealth," he replies, "if yer've got good 'ealth, yer've
got everything, nowt else matters."
Easterby has horses spread all over the place. His boxes range
from age-old prefabs with corrugated roofs held down by breeze blocks to DIY
barn conversions. The doors and fronts, all made in his own workshops, are bolted
in such a way that they can be opened up completely. "Days of mucking-out by
hand are gone," he explains. "We do it all with t'machine once a fortnight."
We're now at Dalby, his second yard. Neat as pin it might be,
but it lends itself to a bygone age reminiscent of All Creatures Great And Small.
Easterby trains his eagle eye over 'Little and Large' - his good sprinters Westcourt
Magic and Blessingindisguise - and seems suitable satisfied. "Does he ever weigh
horses?" Nah," he says "don't have to. I can tell what weight an 'oss has lost,
whether he's too fat or too thin, just by looking at 'em. I'm not being big-headed.
It's called being a stockman. It's the same with sheep or cattle
going to't market. I can sort 'em out in't blink of an eye."
Back in the Merc, the conducted tour continues. "See that hill?
Rises 150ft in five- and-a-half furlongs. Brilliant it is for bad-legged Iosses.
I hold t'record, yer know, for winning races with broken-down 'osses. I'm a
bloody artist at it. Can't tell yer what I do, otherwise everyone would know
as much as me." Into yet another field and Easterby stops off at a gallop he's
making. He goes into great detail about drainage and the pros and cons of various
surfaces. He's tried them all - woodchip, sand, dirt, plus more subtle combinations
of pig hair and mushroom compost.
"I just love making gallops. Experimenting. It's like a drug to
me. I get a kick out of it. "It's the same as farms. I love converting things,
changing things. If I hadn't been a trainer, I'd have been a builder."
But not, it seems, an inventor. As we drive past one of his four
horse-walkers, he says: "it vexes me that I wasn't the first to think of those
things. I had me chance. When I worked for me Uncle Walter, he had one of those
big wheels for grindin' corn, with a cart 'oss walking round. "I never thought
of doing t'same sort of thing for a race 'oss. Should'a done. I'd have made
The fact that Easterby has made a fortune in other areas is
neither here nor there. Money has never changed him and never will, despite a
sign, which hangs in his office, showing a bundle of readies and proclaiming:
"IF I CAN'T TAKE IT WITH ME, I'M NOT GOING". For all his banter, the streetwise
trainer is as shrewd as they come, as sharp as a tack. "I'm not a great believer
in luck," he says. "Everyone needs a bit, but luck lasts only so long. At end
of t'day, it's down to yerself, down to using yer'ead.
"Training's like a hobby to me, a way o'life. I love it. It seems
harder now than it used to be, maybe 'cos I'm getting older. I'm not an easy
man to work with, 'cos I'm not an easy delegator. I want to do everything meself.
But I've got a wonderful assistant in Robin O'Ryan I can just leave it to him
if I want to."
His lifetime in the game has taught him plenty but, he admits,
not everything. "Just when yer think you've got it right, it goes wrong. That's
the thing about racing, you can't conquer it. It's a game you can't master.
You're like a lamb to t'slaughter."
Back at the main yard, my tour almost over, my education almost
complete, Easterby slams shut the door of his overworked Mercedes and contemplates
training on into the Millennium. It begs one final question. Does he ever see
the day when he'll say enough is enough?
He thinks long and hard. About how much he loves what he does.
And for once he drops his guard ever so slightly. "Yer know sum'it" admits
racing's most colourful character. "I wouldn't mind dying in 'arness."
More Mick Easterby here.