It’s no joke Mick Mair won a $328k paycheck at the Millions but more importantly the larrikin trainer keeps his sense of humour despite ill-health

Bruce ClarkNews Corp Australia Sports Newsroom
Camera Icon Credit: Racenet

I recall asking the former Warwick Farm trainer Mick Mair on his arrival to his new Sunshine Coast base at Corbould Park, the very probing question along the lines of “how is it going?”

Probably expecting a similar banal response to a half volley opener outside off stump.

“Mate I came here with nothing – and I’ve still got most of it,” said Mick straight faced tinged with a cheeky schoolboy smirk, perhaps hoping that I got it.

I did, and I’ve never forgotten it, and if that’s all you need to know about Mick Mair that is about what sums him up. But it’s not.

Relentlessly funny, easily likeable, cunningly cheeky, old school, the sort of bloke you’d love to have a beer with. And I’ll declare I have had a few with Mick, ‘the Mair of the Sunshine Coast’, over the years and most of them told with a new joke chaser regaled by Mick, off the cuff and one that you had never heard before.

So Mair’s biggest payday in over 40 years in the game came at the Magic Millions last Saturday week and gave me a chance to touch base, reunite and collate some rollicking stories, all true – you couldn’t make them up because Mick has some of the best of them and tells them better than anyone.

So, you’ll hear of the owner, so mean, reckons Mick, that “he took his wife to see Doctor Zhivago and tried to claim it on Medicare” and there is more on him to come.

Or of the stable jockey who had a nasty fall and was laid-up in hospital with busted limbs and in traction when Mick asked the doctor for a prognosis. “He’ll be able to ride in three or four months,” said the medico. “What are you a miracle worker, he couldn’t ride before,” retorted Mick.

Or of his great mate Tony Wildman, the days of riding out with the hounds chasing the foxes with he and fellow trainer Paul Cave in Sydney’s west.

“Wildy was saddling one at Gosford one day in the rain when the owner came up and asked him if it could handle the wet – ‘his mother ran third on a cloudy day once’ Wildy fired back at him quick as a flash. He was a funny bugger, it was stuff like that every day.”

Or Burglar of Bamff, who one day famously beat Vo Rogue in a Lord Mayor’s Cup at Doomben, and was a prolific winner and popular horse himself, destined for the Queensland Police upon retirement but Mick throws in “I didn’t want him to have a sex change” and you have to add in the rest yourselves here to complete the sentence. No correct answers.

Then there is “Singo”, who he has trained for for over 40 years without the need to add John Singleton for protocols “He’s 80 and totally mad you know.” Mick trained horses like Liar Liar for him – to no-one’s surprise.

And Gerry, that’s as in Harvey, for crossing the I’s and dotting the t’s. “He’s 82 and still playing A-grade tennis. He’s the straightest and easiest bloke to deal with.”

Magic Millions Sales, ltr Tommy Raudonikis and John Singleton share a beer Reporter: Dominic Burke
Camera IconMick Mair trained Fisticuffs for rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis and John Singleton: Dominic Burke Credit: News Limited

Both Singo and Gerry roll through the Mair racing tapestry as much as his life, they are good mates who bait each other as much as enjoy the banter and company.

There hasn’t been a long list of recent winners, just eight last season, seven before that, three prior, the career boasts just one at Randwick and Morphettville the same as Canowindra, Crookwell, Bowen or Bungendore none at Flemington or The Valley, the same as with as with tries as at Come By Chance, Brewarrina, Mendooran, which is to say Mick has been everywhere and still here.

Now yes, Mair has won a Group 1 Oakleigh Plate with Swiss Ace, competed at the highest levels with Kidman’s Cove and looked after a cult hero like Burglar Of Bamff, but a little Press Statement filly called Sneaky Starter has been his best financial result and it didn’t even win. It got the major share of the $500,000 Magic Millions Ladies Bonus – $325,000 (plus $3,000 trophy) last Saturday week.

“Singo rang me when I was in the hospital and said ‘did you ever think you would win so much for running seventh?’” Mair recalled, though not recalling much at the time of the race

The short Sneaky Starter story is Mair and his wife Belinda bought the filly off Gerry – “on type”.

“I saw it going through and it was passed in, so I told Belinda to go and see Gerry and buy it. I didn’t look at its pedigree then I saw the mare wasn’t worth two bob, it’s mum had produced two for nothing, the second dam six for nothing, I thought Gerry got us again.”

I did mention to Mick that the third dam produced Singo’s Golden Slipper winner Ha Ha and a few more. “I didn’t go back that far.”

“No, she’s a nice filly. We had one plan getting into that race, to win the bonus, not often you get Plan A home in the races, we rode for that, I told Tiffani (Brooker) just to ride the arse off it and make the other two eligible earn it, and that’s what we did and that’s what we got and the taxman can’t get it because it’s in Belinda’s name, she’s a hobbyist.”

Not only was there the $328,000 bonus but $20,000 in prizemoney for Sneaky Starter’s seventh, which easily toppled the $240,000 Swiss Ace got when winning the 2009 Oakleigh Plate. The Gerry twist in that is that Harvey now stands Swiss Ace at his Westbury Stud in New Zealand.

Mair wasn’t on course for his biggest payday, he was in hospital, not for the cancer treatment he’s been battling for three years, but after a fall at home.

“It was in the dark, don’t know what happened, I ended up with like a cricket ball on the back of my head and shoulder, had bruised arms and somehow broke two toes – yes two toes. There was no-one home, I was panicking on the floor. Anyway, I eventually got onto Triple O and they got me going again,” he said.

“Then I’m in there and found out I had Covid as well at the same time, so at least that’s out of the way. I stayed in as long as I needed but told them I wasn’t staying any longer and got out last week. Anyway, we are a tough breed. I’m 71, mum is 94 and she got it in a nursing home in Penrith and is alright.”

But Mair refuses to let the cancer – “the chemo is worse than the disease” – knockout his simple approach to life.

“Mate there are a lot of people much worse off than me.”

“I love what I do, always have, wouldn’t have it any other way, I’ve only got nine in work these days, would normally have 20, but the owners drop off when you are crook. I need to explain the difference to them between being sick and dead. I’m just sick.”

But not sick enough to wail along with a tiny violin in the background.

And so, the stories start and until you say enough, they never stop. And there is never enough. Not the way Mick tells them.

Before he came to Queensland to train for then Racing Minister Russ Hinze – “I failed the interview, well I never got past Mrs Hinze (Fay) which was probably a good result” – Mair was based at Warwick Farm which is where Wildy, Cave and The Burglar enter the story.

“They were great days,” he said and I can’t get them all in here.

Let’s try one hunting yarn, can you imagine Mick, Wildy and Cave, the big Irishman, togged up in the red coats with the hounds chasing the fox.

“One day one of the dogs was on heat and was going berserk. I remember asking Wildy where the fox was. ‘Yeah, he was running eighth last time I saw him,’’ he said. True!

You’ve got to paint a picture on this one. When there was any trouble on the hunts there was a pipe where the animals could hide. A late night, well very late night out, Mair and Cave were trying to get Wildman home without his wife noticing, jumping neighbours fences, tiptoeing, you’ve got the idea right. “Can you find one of those pipe’s Wildy said.”

Trainer Tony Wildman (L), who had to give up his Warwick Farm stables due to illness, thank (L-R) businessmen Gerry Harvey, broadcaster Ray Hadley and John Singleton, who were among racing idenities who helped raise nearly $400,000 for him during benefit lunch at Randwick in Sydney.
Camera IconTony Wildman (left) with Gerry Harvey, broadcaster Ray Hadley and John Singleton. Credit: News Corp Australia

Which leads us into Roy Thompson, prolific property developer, and major backer of the Mair stable who has turned full circle from the world’s meanest owner to supporting Mair in his health and financial battles. This is the Doctor Zhivago bloke.

“He took Wildy and Paul and myself to New Zealand to look at a stallion. He booked us into a hotel where they made the movie Once Were Warriors, there were more tattoos than people,” Mair said.

“When we got there, I said to Wildy you check into the room and I’ll go to the bar and order the beers and if we are still alive when you get back we’ll drink them.”

“He came back and said ‘do you have a good memory for faces’. I said why? ‘There are no mirrors in the bathroom.”

But the trio were staggered on arrival at Karaka when Roy Thompson went without a change of instructions and bought coffees.

“We were in shock, Wildy reckoned he walked in on him one day and saw him in his room with a tube of toothpaste and a vice. Paul said to him that day that he had better do his top button on his shirt up because his heart might fall out.”

The Mick Mair-trained Fisticuffs, owned by John Singleton and Tommy Raudonikis, winning at Doomben. Grant Peters-Trackside Photography.
Camera IconThe Mick Mair-trained Fisticuffs, owned by John Singleton and Tommy Raudonikis, winning at Doomben. Grant Peters-Trackside Photography. Credit: Supplied

Mair continues the banter – and stay with us here, there is a very happy turn around – when driving through the Hunter Valley low on petrol and suggested they had better fill up.

“He had the latest Merc, a juice guzzler and he put in $10. I asked him what he was doing, he said it’s 1c cheaper up the road and we will fill up there, Roy used to have a uniform for the races, grey slacks and a navy blue blazer, every day, one of the richest blokes in the country.” Mair said.

“He actually sued a paper or magazine, you know when they list that rich list, he sued them for saying he was too rich, won that and got another $100k.”

But in dark times, Mair has no hesitation in saying Thompson has been first there in his support and eliminate his financial hurdles. It’s a huge six figure sum to ensure his old mate is OK.

“I always said Roy would cut his own hair, it’s all fun, but he reckons that’s just a part of what he won on the punt on the horses over the years, wish I’d know that then, but he couldn’t have been more sincere,” Mair said.

Thompson owned Kidman’s Cove who would run in a Golden Slipper (ninth behind Flying Spur and Octagonal) after solid efforts in a Skyline and Pago Pago but was eventually a Sydney star with John Size, putting four together including an Expressway Stakes, Apollo Stakes and Canterbury Stakes, but it was The Burglar (of Bamff) that reminds me most and sits best with the legend of Mair.

He won more races – 36 – just, than the years he lived. He won them from 900m to 2100m. He won on debut at Newcastle as a two-year-old under the name of trainer Pat Farrell then to Mick.

“He won his first start but I didn’t think he won well enough, so he won about four or five falling in and I said I’d never back him again and take him to the country,” Mair said.

He ran in Bonecrusher’s AJC Derby as a three-year-old before Mair thought the country and confidence was what was needed. That was Braidwood, they race once a year there (February) on the southern tablelands in the New South Wales south-east.

“We gave him a dig at the half-mile and he won like Secretariat (officially 16 lengths) and I never backed him. I reckon they took four seconds off the track record.”

The Burglar raced until was he was 10 (when placed five of 7), won his last race in 1990 aged 8.

He lived his years out at Mair’s Little Mountain property after he sold his Caloundra training set-up for big money: “Geez I miss that place (sold for $3m),” he said with the usual touch of irony and adding the ex-partner got half of that.

“We kept him until the end, he was a freak, he was like a pet in the end,” Mair said.

“He was like a seagull looking for his lunch, he’d open his stable door, go for a wander, eat a few pot plants and then come home.”

“At the end we just kept him at home, he was a bleeder and one day he was galloping around the paddock in a storm and that was it.”

And who’d have thought the Mick Mair curriculum vitae would add him serving 10 years on the Sunshine Coast Turf Club committee and that Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman would sound him out for a training partnership for the move to Queensland before Mair’s health and position declined with Freedman eventually settling on the Gold Coast.

Asking Mair to sum it all up.

“I’m probably a little more advanced than most of it now”.

Originally published as It’s no joke Mick Mair won a $328k paycheck at the Millions but more importantly the larrikin trainer keeps his sense of humour despite ill-health

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