Racing: Spitting image of a sharp dealer: Richard Edmondson, Racing Correspondent, on the trainer of the Champion Hurdle favourite

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The Independent Online
AS WE arrived at New House Farm, the Yorkshire stables of Mick Easterby, the signs were that this was not to be a long interview.

'You might as well stay here,' Easterby told the taxi driver. 'This isn't going to take five minutes.'

Being late for an appointment is never satisfactory. And the last person you want to be late for is Mick Easterby.

On the taxi journey to his yard at Sheriff Hutton, 10 miles north of York, the driver referred to Easterby as an 'extrovert', a man who is regarded as fearsome both by those in racing and those in his neighbourhood, and especially a man who does not like to be kept waiting.

With better things to do, Easterby was keen to alleviate the irritant of this meeting and marched quickly into the farmhouse and one of the most dangerous chambers in British racing. Dangerous to the pocket.

Easterby's kitchen does not look like a financial killing field. His wellies, always with the tops turned down, are in the corner. A clothes airer dangling from the ceiling carries a pair of long johns and some socks which appear to have been washed in Brand X and not the new improved formula. And on the floor, being used, it appears, as an ornament, are the remains of a cabbage.

But this is as daunting an arena as any walnut-panelled Wall Street office. Instead of unlocking the tantalus, the trainer boils a coffee and then goes about his business.

'What do you want to know, quick,' he said. As his chestnut gelding Coulton is favourite for next Tuesday's Champion Hurdle and reporters and television crews have been at the yard all week, he may have been anticipating another inquiry into the six-year- old's well-being.

'He's fine,' Easterby said. And then immediately came the sting. 'Are you on a big salary? Why don't you get some pals together and have a syndicate up here? I'll fix you a hoss. A good one. Don't forget to leave your address.'

The trainer was persuaded to return to the minor subject of Coulton, and admitted he may have been overplaying the horse's chances recently. 'You have to talk them up a bit don't you,' he said. 'I would like some luck in running and give in the ground, and if we get that he'll run a big race.

'To be honest, I didn't foresee this hurdle race bit. He's really a chaser. He's going to take the place of Desert Orchid.'

The cycle of purchase, improvement to and sale of a racehorse is manna to Easterby, though he is much more than just a horse- dealer. He was the first northern- based trainer to win more than pounds 100,000 in a season, in 1976, the year he established Lochnager as the champion sprinter. The following season, he won the 1,000 Guineas with Mrs McArdy, the last northern horse to win a Classic.

Easterby leans on a bank of anecdotes from before those times which conjure memories of Monty Python sketches. The ones that started 'you were lucky'.

He talks excitedly of the time when he was working for his uncle Walter and was about to have his first ride in public.

'I had to take off 12lb overnight so I put on every coat I could find and went for a four-mile run. I came back and lay in front of the fire for two hours with four horse rugs round me and then I went to the bath, put 3lb of cattle salts in, and lay there until it went cold.

'Then it were two bottles of liquid paraffin. I drank that and it cleaned me out completely, but I've always been constipated so that didn't bother me too much.

'The thing wa', I didn't even get to ride the hoss because they got someone else. I just rode it home bareback for 10 miles.

'Everyone should do something like that because it's the best thing in the world for you. Brings you down a peg.'

Easterby's idea of what is salubrious also extends to the workplace. 'You have to be dedicated,' he said. 'And that mean cutting out holidays. I went to Barbados once and I thought it was criminal, people laying on the beach in the sun. I've never been so bored in my life and I finished up riding up and down the beach on a horse all day long.

'We're only on this earth for so long, so it's morally wrong to sit on your arse doing nothing. The good Lord didn't give us brains, muscles and arms to lay about. He gave us life to work.'

This attitude may explain the man's esprit, his inability to conform to our expectations of people his age.

Mick Easterby is 61 (the crumpled cap, which may be stapled to his head, is probably 61 as well), but he will never be old. He is one of those men who sees life as a continual challenge, every person either an adversary or a customer.

Easterby himself is a regular customer at his local, The Highwayman, where he drinks an obligatory two pints in a night. 'You must have two pints wherever you are,' he notes. 'It's good for t'bowels.'

Back outside New House Farm there are surreal moments. As Easterby emerges, the stable lads, horses, dogs and a flock of African guinea fowl fall silent. The man is clearly a latter day St Francis of Assisi, St Francis with an attitude.

Easterby is known in the game as 'Spittin' Mick'. This is because, as quickly becomes apparent, he spits a lot. On the ground, into stables and down his jumper.

If he ever wins the Queen Mother Champion Chase it should be quite a meeting as he picks up the trophy from the doyenne of the Royal Family.

If your image of a training establishment is the polished setting of Arkenfield from BBC's Trainer, New House Farm would come as something of a surprise as bales of hay are scattered around and the stable doors are all splintered.

On the way out of this hotchpotch, one of the lads, who must have learned from the master, enquires if this reporter would like to buy a pizza. As an enigmatic gesture, this is then overtaken by Easterby's farewell.

'D'you like eggs?' he asks. Reappearing from a stable, he produces a warm, free-range egg which has been laid in the manger.

'Put that in your pocket and take it home,' he said. 'Boil it and it'll taste lovely. Bye-bye.'

Mick Easterby was right about the egg, and he might even be right about Coulton.

(Photograph omitted)

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