With all due respect to Luke Morris, who was flawless aboard Alpinista on his first ever ride in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the toughest job here on Sunday fell to the security team trying to usher Sir Mark Prescott, her trainer, from the winner’s enclosure towards the post-race press conference. At every other step, well-wishers were extending hands, exchanging teary kisses and even stopping Newmarket’s longest-serving trainer for selfies, as they shared the general delight at one of the most popular big-race successes for years.
Prescott, who is 74, took over the licence at the historic, 50-box Heath House stables in Newmarket, where horses have been trained since the 17th century, in 1970. At the time, he was the youngest trainer in Britain. In the 53 seasons since, he has landed Group Ones and gaff-track gambles, shown famous loyalty to his relative handful of stable jockeys and turned into both a historian and the elder statesman of Flat racing’s famous HQ.
“Eccentric” and “old-school” are two descriptions that follow Prescott around, in much the same way that a cloud of smoke was ever-present until he quit his 10-a-day Cuban cigar habit a few years ago. His enthusiasm for blood sports, which dates back to a visit to Pamplona for the bull run in his teens, could be a sticking-point for some, but he is, essentially, a complete one-off, and a tonic in an age when huge stables dominate international Flat racing.
Vadeni, with the soon-to-be-banned Christophe Soumillon in the saddle, and Torquator Tasso, last year’s shock winner, were closing in on Alpinista in the final strides and her eventual winning margin was just half a length. The race was in effect over, however, from the moment that the gun-metal grey sauntered into the lead a furlong and a half out, with Morris motionless in her saddle.
“I always thought that the best day of my racing life was when I rode a winner on my first ride at 15 or 16,” Prescott said. “It had no chance of winning, and it won. I had a girlfriend and we walked out down the track, and there was an old man banging in divots and he said: ‘What won the first?’ And I said: ‘I did,’ and I thought it was the best moment of my life, but this is every bit as good.
“I think she’s improved with every single run in the last two years and she’s had to improve each time. Whether she can go on more, I don’t know, but she’s been faultless for two years, and the jockey’s been faultless for two years. This is her best race but every single one of the last seven has been better than the one before, so it’s been a marvellous journey.”
Prescott has trained several generations of Alpinista’s family for Kirsten Rausing, her owner, including Albanova, her grand-dam, a three-time Group One winner, and his famous reluctance to travel too far from his Newmarket home may yet be tested again this season before Alpinista retires to the breeding sheds.
Stratford 1.00 Storm Dennis 1.35 Oneforthegutter 2.10 It’s A Good Name 2.45 Time To Bite 3.20 Kazontherazz 3.55 Dream In The Park 4.30 Borderline
Pontefract 1.25 Baroque Prince 1.55 Reward Smile 2.30 Emperor Caradoc 3.05 Wynford 3.40 Gainsbourg 4.15 Sobegrand 4.50 Patontheback 5.25 Sweet Glance
Windsor 1.30 Big Bard 2.02 Fanciful 2.37 Divina Grace 3.12 Surrey Mist 3.47 Novaportian 4.22 My Lion 4.57 Gentle Whinny 5.32 Rose Barton
Wolverhampton 4.46 Showman 5.20 Palifico (nb) 5.55 Pop Dancer 6.30 Laurentia (nap) 7.00 Three Dons 7.30 Chookie Dunedin 8.00 Georgia Madeleine 8.30 Quarter Blue
“We need to think a bit and discuss,” Rausing said, before suggesting the Japan Cup and Breeders’ Cup Turf as possible targets for her much-coveted first winner of the Arc.
Prescott, who travelled to Japan with Albanova’s full sister, Alborada, in 1999, only for the mare to go lame before the race, would be keen for another go – “I’m sure Miss Rausing’s eagle eye will have observed, but she gets a $3m bonus if she’s lucky enough to win the Japan Cup,” he pointed out, while patting his wallet – but immediate retirement probably remains the most likely option.
For Prescott and Morris, meanwhile, it will be back to the Newmarket routine on Monday morning, and so too for William Butler, the trainer’s assistant for nearly 20 years, whose accession to the top job at Heath House is now likely to be delayed once again.
“I haven’t won an English Classic, I’m very ashamed of it, but I’m very proud of having won the Prix de Diane [French Oaks] and even more proud of having won today,” Prescott said.
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“I’ve trained for Miss Rausing for 36 years, I trained the mother and the grandmother, and Luke’s been with me 11 years. It’s hard to imagine a better day if you’re a racehorse trainer. I think poor William will view this win with mixed emotions. It will probably keep me tottering on a bit longer. He’s worked so hard, but it’s probably bad news for him.”