I only ever managed to talk to Geoff Wragg on one occasion. That was last year when putting together the archive picture spread on Teenoso’s 1983 Derby win. My previous efforts to get in touch with the Newmarket trainer, during my days writing press releases for Racenews, always ended in failure, having been unable to negotiate his particularly ferocious secretary. On one occasion she hung up on me mid-call, clearly unimpressed with my introductory patter. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.
Growing up, Geoff Wragg was the only trainer I really followed. I loved racing, both jumps and Flat, whether going to the track or watching on TV, but there was only one stable whose runners I would always look out for. Maybe it was because my dad always seemed to back the Wragg horses that I had an affinity for the Newmarket handler. Or maybe it was because I fell in love with the chocolate and gold silks of Mollers Racing. Over time, I thought I gained an understanding of how Mr Wragg liked to train his horses.
First time out? Forget it! The Wragg runners rarely shone on their debuts yet there would nearly always be encouragement to some degree in their performances. Yes, he could train two-year-olds – Owington and First Trump spring to mind – but the bigger goals lay ahead. It always seemed that each race was a stepping-stone in a horse’s development rather than a goal in itself.
As a result, I was able to enjoy watching his representatives race on season after season, the likes of Island House and Swallow Flight, who appeared to get better as they got older. Retiring horses to stud at two or three? Not at Abington Place, thank you.
Perhaps there was no better advert for Wragg’s talents than his handling of The Whistling Teal, owned and bred by his cousin, Felicity Veasey. Inheriting the horse as a five-year-old handicapper, the trainer teased improvement out of this seemingly exposed performer race by race, year by year, his age and rating rising concurrently. That The Whistling Teal was still winning in Group-company at the age of ten is testament to the skills of his trainer, who sadly passed away in September.
Like Geoff Wragg, Tim Easterby also comes from a famous racing family, so closely associated with legendary names like Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon, both trained by his father, Peter.
Easterby is a stalwart of the northern racing scene, saddling plenty of winners under both codes, with horses bought for next to nothing in today’s terms, a product of catering to smaller owners. Yet that doesn’t mean he cannot unearth a star from time to time.
In Wells Farhh Go, purchased for 16,000 guineas, Easterby has a two-year-old that has his trainer dreaming of big-race glory. This son of Farhh has won both his starts at the time of writing, following an eye-catching maiden success at York with victory in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at the same track in August.
The most pressing concern for the trainer is whether he and co-owner Alan Heley can resist the stream of offers being made for their promising colt, who could follow Easterby’s St Leger hero Bollin Eric in pursuing a Classic campaign next year.
“It’s hard to explain when you are in this situation,” he tells Julian Muscat (The Big Interview, pages 40-44). “Where do you stop; where do you even start? In the end it comes down to the size of the offer on the table, and we’ve not been tempted yet.
“He’s got Eric’s temperament and his attitude. He’s got his speed, too, and he should stay. I never saw Eric as a Derby horse but it might be different with this fellow. We’ll have to see where we are with him when the Derby’s next entry stage comes along [in April].”
“I want him to stay in the yard and I’d like to keep a share in him if possible. But horses are there to race, to trade. My partner in the horse is very happy with where we are, because we think he is going to be top-class.”