Mick Easterby's Half Century Honour
Tom O'Ryan, from the Gazette and Herald
21 December 2011
Fifty years as a trainer is excellent going by any standards and Mick Easterby's completion of his half-century with a licence has been duly honoured in his home county.
The veteran Sheriff Hutton trainer, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, has received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Go Racing In Yorkshire group to acknowledge the indelible mark he has made on northern racing.
Easterby is a complete one-off. A straight-talking Yorkshireman, who has become a living legend, he has combined being a canny farmer with being an even cannier trainer and the most astute of businessmen, a character with a capital "C". Sometimes crude, sometimes controversial, often colourful, a larger-than-life figure, impossible to ignore.
A man with a reputation of being able to sell ice to Eskimos and sand to Arabs, Easterby once sold a half-share in a horse to a man he'd never before set eyes on during a chance meeting - they were both involved in a traffic hold-up on the A1. In Easterby's eyes, what else was there to do in such a situation than to exit your stationary vehicle and do some business with a chap in another car just a spitting distance away?
"This is grand, just the job," said Easterby, as he was presented with a framed montage of his most successful horses by York clerk of the course William Derby at last week's Go Racing In Yorkshire Awards Lunch at Doncaster racecourse.
That he received a standing ovation from the 250 guests was no surprise. Nor was it a surprise he then regaled his audience with recollections of a career which has spanned well over 2,500 winners.
Easterby started from fairly humble beginnings. Having worked initially for his trainer-uncle Walter Easterby at Towton near Tadcaster, and then helped his brother Peter when he set up at Great Habton, Mick first moved to Sheriff Hutton into a rented farm in 1955.
He had a handful of moderate horses back then - and a novel way of exercising them. He'd unlock a gate, nip into a farmer's field, gallop his horses and nip out again before his unsuspecting neighbour had even wiped the sleep from his eyes. Not only that, but he claims to have done it for four years and was never once found out.
For all the colourful tales and humorous banter, as a trainer Mick Easterby can walk the walk and talk the talk. He is one of the few northern trainers who can claim to have won a Classic - with Mrs McArdy, who triumphed in the 1977 1,000 Guineas. He's also one of the precious few who has had a European champion sprinter, Lochnager, who won everything worth winning in 1976 and enabled Mick to become the first northern trainer ever to accumulate more than £100,000 in a Flat season.
He's also trained a Cesarewitch winner in Boismoss, who triumphed just six years into his training career, and a Cheltenham Festival winner with Peterhof in the Triumph Hurdle. He also came within a whisker of winning a Grand National with Mr Snugfit, who, having jumped the final fence in front, five lengths to the good, was only caught in the dying strides by the tail-swishing Last Suspect, a 50-1 shot, in 1985.
Unsurprisingly, a common denominator of Mick's best horses was that they were all bought cheaply by a man who was seemingly born knowing the time of day and with the beadiest of eye for a bargain.
Mrs McArdy was snapped up as part of an eight-horse yearling package deal for £6,000. The other seven horses were useless and Mick knew it. But he saw something in Mrs McArdy, even in her infancy, that might have escaped countless others. He bought the eight and kept just the one. At the end of her three-year-old campaign, by which time she'd won eight races, she was sold at Newmarket's December Sales for 154,000gns, which was then a record for a horse in training, and sent to the United States.
Lochnager was bought for just £600. In 1976, he was sensational, winning the Temple Stakes, the King's Stand, the July Cup and the Nunthorpe. "He's the best sprinter I've ever seen, let alone trained. The speed he had was unbelievable," said Easterby last week.
Peterhof, his Triumph Hurdle winner, was purchased out of a York seller for 800gns, while Wiganthorpe, his Gimcrack winner of 1986, was gobbled up for just 2,000gns as a yearling after failing the vet at the sales with a supposed wind infirmity.
There have been plenty of other starring acts along the way. High-class sprinters Workboy and Polly Peachum, the talented Jon George, who completed the Portland Handicap-Ayr Gold Cup double of 1977, all-weather specialist Gentleman's Deal, winner of the Winter Derby in 2007, and not forgetting this year's outstanding flag-bearer, Hoof It, who, having proved himself the best handicapper in the country with two York wins and when running away with the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood under top-weight, was unlucky not to win in Group 1 company before the season drew to a halt.
"His target next year will be to win a Group 1," said Easterby, who joked with Pocklington breeder Reg Bond across the room at the lunch, "Reg has promised me five (stallion) nominations if I manage to do it.
"He's a horse that we had to take our time with and bring along slowly. And we also learned he's a horse that doesn't want too much galloping. He's still maturing. There could be even more to come from him yet."
The same, it seems, applies to Easterby himself. Fifty years as a trainer has not quenched his appetite. "I love it," he said. "Retire? Why would I want to retire? I can't wait to get up on a morning."