TASMANIA’S racing industry is in mourning over the death of popular thoroughbred trainer Mick Burles who passed away in his sleep in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Burles and his star galloper The Cleaner took the nation by storm five years ago when the bold front-running gelding became the first Tasmanian-trained horse to run in a Cox Plate (2014) and he mirrored the feat the following year.
Burles, 69, had fought a long battle with emphysema and it was the debilitating disease that claimed his life while a resident at Toosey Aged and Care Home at Longford.
Burles was born at Koonya on the Tasman Peninsula as a part aboriginal son of Horace and Valerie Burles.
His mother was the daughter of Sissy Nichols who was listed as a direct descendant of Truganini, presumed to be the last full-blood Aborigine to die on the island (in May 1876).
Throughout his journey, Burles maintained a simple philosophy on life.
“Life’s like a game of cards,” Burles said. “You just have to be happy with the hand your dealt.”
Before embarking on a career as a racehorse trainer Burles tried a number of occupations including driving delivery trucks, driving a street sweeper for the Launceston City Council and he was a labourer at Comalco where he almost died from an accident involving a burst pressure hose.
He loved the land and some of his happiest memories were of when he was a share farmer in the north and north-west regions of the state working seven days a week on boutique dairy farms.
He was a handy footballer in his younger days, so when he left school at age 15 he believed he would become a professional footballer and play with his beloved Hawthorn Football Club in the AFL (then VFL).
While he never reached those heights Burles played and coached a total of 494 games with various Tasmanian clubs spanning from the Tasmanian Peninsula to as far north-west as Penguin.
When he finally turned his attention to training horses in the 1980s, Burles quickly realised it was something he could consider as a career.
When The Cleaner came along Burles was flat broke and was forced to sell the horse to three of his golfing buddies but he was kept on as the trainer.
The Cleaner took Burles on a journey that, along the way, gave him celebrity status as the horse took on the best middle-distance gallopers in Australia and time after time he gave them a galloping lesson.
Winning back-to-back Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley were two of Burles’ biggest highlights but saddling up his beloved “Bill” (aka The Cleaner) in the 2014 Cox Plate was the ultimate as it realised a dream he had nurtured for many years.
The Cleaner is now a resident at Living Legends in Victoria but when he roams the paddocks no more the gelded son of Savoire Vivre will be cremated and his ashes along with those of Burles will be laid to rest together under a shady tree at Armidale Stud, which was Burles’ wish and that of the owners of the horse.
Burles is survived by his four children Kim, Damian, Carissa and Dion.
A time has yet to be set for Burles’ funeral.