Mick Easterby

YORKSHIRE'S VERY OWN SON

by Tom O'Ryan

taken from the Racing Post

I love land. Yer know why?
Because nobody can pinch land.

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 it.

"I'm not a great believer in luck. At end of t'day, it's down to yerself, down to using yer'ead.
"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 baby".

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?

"Training's like a hobby to me, a way o'life. I love it."
"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 a fortune."

If I can't take it with me ....
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.


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