Mick Burles’ dying wish is to be buried with the horse that made him one of Australia’s most prolific trainers – The Cleaner.
After a near decade long battle with emphysema, the 69-year-old says he has ran his last race and has officially announced his retirement.
The Longford horse trainer became a national racing identity following his success with cult hero The Cleaner.
‘Bill’ as he was affectionately known, became the first Tasmanian-trained horse to ever run in the Cox Plate.
Burles purchased Bill as a yearling for $10,000, before selling him to Fawdry and co-owners Jim Lowish and Paul Burt.
Burles trained the horse throughout his career, amassing 19 wins and about $1.3 million in prizemoney.
It was a horse that only comes along “once in a lifetime” according to Burles, who said he felt he had achieved everything he needed to as a trainer.
“I have had some good horses over the years, but Bill was different,” he said.
“He is the horse that every trainer dreams of.
“I have achieved more than I ever thought I would, except winning the Cox Plate.
“That would have been the icing on the cake.
“Really I am just disappointed I had to step away.
“I would have like to have seen out another 12 months, but the doctors say enough is enough
“I figured it was about time I started listening to them.”
Burles said he always had a soft spot for horses.
Growing up on a dairy farm, as a young boy he said his days were spent either on a horse or near one, but his start in the racing industry took some time to develop.
Burles’ first taste for horse racing came during his days in the Army.
Based at Puckapunyal in 1968, he said he was dragged along to a race in Seymour where he “reluctantly” decided to put a bet down.
But after one win he was hooked.
“I thought, well I could get used to this,” he said.
“I didn’t really know what it was all about back then, but its so easy to get caught up in it all.
“It was just a bit of fun – I had a bit of fun.”
Burles wouldn’t become a horse owner until some years later.
After “settling down” with wife Lyn and starting a family, he decided he wanted to buy his own horse.
Unfortunately it was not a venture supported by his wife, but he did it anyway.
“I bought the horse, but I put in her [Lyn’s] name,” he said.
“She wasn’t happy about it, until it started winning.
“We were at her sister’s wedding in Burnie and the horse was racing in Hobart. That was Easter Saturday.
“We were all out in the carpark listening to the race on the radio.
“Lyn was running around screaming when it pulled a win. She never complained about the horse after that.”
After a couple of years learning the ropes, Burles started training horses in the mid 90s.
Based at Longford, at his height Burles had about 20 horses under his management at one time.
He said the physical and mental demands of the profession wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
“People see the glitz and glamour of horse racing, but behind the scenes is a far cry,” he said.
“It is bloody hard work and I worked bloody hard.
“And let me tell you there were far more down times than there was good times.
“I wouldn’t like to guess how many horses I have trained over the years.”
One of the darker days came when Burles parted ways with The Cleaner at the end of 2015.
The horse was sent to Victoria to a trainer at Mornington and Burles was left to keep an “open mind” about the future.
The pair were briefly reunited in January this year, when Bill made a return to Tasmania as part of a breeding tour.
Returning to his birthplace at Armidale stud farm at Carrick, Burles teared up as he reminisced on the reunion.
“He knew exactly who I was when he saw me,” he said.
“There is no doubt in my mind of that.
“I was waiting for him and he came straight over and nuzzled at my pocket.
“He was looking for his carrot.
“That was a wonderful moment for me.”
Now living on a property at Carrick, Burles ran his last race in May.
Now focused on managing his health, he said he has was beginning to settle into retired life – including no longer having to get up at 4am every morning.
“It has taken a while, but I am starting to sleep in now,” he said.
“It has been a really big adjustment.
“I have had emphysema for 10 years and every day it has gotten worse.
“But it does sneak up on you. It snuck up on me and before I knew it – bang, I was on my ass.”
Living in a small apartment, Burles’ walls are covered in racing memorabilia and photos of his achievements over the years.
But asked what he will be thinking about in his final days, only one horse comes to mind – Bill.
“That horse was just a bloody champion,” he said.
“For most trainers, he was just a horse, but for me he was always a champion.
“If I make 70, I will be counting my blessings.
“But I will be buried with that horse. I might need to wait 10 years for him to catch up to me, but it will happen.”