Miles Henry ‘Peter’ Easterby – not to be confused with his younger brother, Michael William ‘Mick’ Easterby who, at the time of writing, has the distinction of being the oldest racehorse trainer in Britain – retired in 1996, but was, arguably, the greatest dual-purpose trainer in the history of British horse racing. Over two decades after he handed over to his son, Tim, at Habton Grange Stables, near Malton, North Yorkshire, Easterby remains the only trainer in history to saddle more than 1,000 winners under both codes.
In the National Hunt sphere, Easterby was Champion Trainer three years running, in 1978/79, 1979/80 and 1980/81. All told, Easterby saddled 13 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, starting with the notoriously hard-pulling, but slick-jumping, Saucy Kit in the Champion Hurdle in 1967 but, between 1976 and 1983, enjoyed a particularly purple patch at the most prestigious meeting in the National Hunt calendar with ten winners in seven years.
His favourite horse and, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 182, still the highest rated hurdler since the early-60s, Night Nurse, won the Champion Hurdle in 1976 and 1977. Four years later, having successful switched to steeplechasing, the same horse failed by a length-and-a-half to become the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double, when beaten, ironically, by stable companion Little Owl in the latter contest.
Easterby won the Champion Hurdle twice more, with Sea Pigeon, at the age of 10 and 11, respectively, in 1980 and 1981. When the ‘old man’ – as Sir Peter O’Sullevan called Sea Pigeon during his first victory – died, at the age of 30, in 2000, he was buried alongside his former stable companion, Night Nurse, at Habton Grange, beneath a plaque inscribed ‘Legends In Their Lifetime’.
During his reign as Champion Trainer, Easterby also saddled the hugely-talented, but ill-fated, Alverton to win the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 1978 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1979. Fresh from his wide-margin win in the Blue Riband event, the 9-year-old was sent off a worthy favourite for the Grand National, but broke his neck during a fall at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, when cantering in front, and was humanely euthanised.