“Headmaster” Prescott leads Alpinista to the top of the Arc class

Mark Prescott once feared he would never walk again due to a horse riding accident but he fought his way back to full fitness and after enlightening the racing world with his wit and wisdom on Sunday he enjoyed his “greatest day ever”.

The 74-year-old trainer spoke after his tough mare Alpinista won Europe’s biggest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

When God Save The King rang, Prescott was on the podium alongside Alpinista’s owner Kirsten Rausing, a fellow seventy-year-old and longtime supporter, and jockey Luke Morris, who has been with him for 11 years.

Prescott may be a teetotaler and gave up cigars a while ago, but what hasn’t gone away is the hereditary quip.

“This is without a doubt my greatest day in racing,” he said.

“I thought my greatest day in racing was when I had my first winner on my first ride at the age of 15.

“I did the class afterwards with my then girlfriend (who was 17) and this guy put the divots back in the ground.

“He asked who won the first? I said ‘me’ and he winked and said ‘damn good ride that’!

“That has remained my greatest day to this day.”

Prescott, moved to tears after Alpinista’s win, had very different feelings in his head when he was left paralyzed at age 17 after a horseback riding fall.

“I think about it every day because it was the most influential moment of my life,” he told The Guardian.

“I broke my back. I tried to tell them not to move me. But I couldn’t speak and then I realized I couldn’t blink.”

The nurses had to close his eyelids.

“It was a healing lesson and I was scared every day and I was like, ‘I can lie here until I’m 90,'” he said.

“It lasted six weeks and then I suddenly felt someone stick a needle in my foot.

“I was still scared until the whole feeling finally came back and I was able to leave the hospital after nine months.”

– ‘Sway a little’ –

Prescott has been coaching for over 50 years – when he started he was the youngest coach at Newmarket – and likes to think of his job as that of a headmaster.

Admittedly one who has resisted the urge to expand his school, having just 50 horses and has regularly turned down the opportunity to get more.

“As a coach, I guess I’m the headmaster,” he told Thoroughbred.com.

“The owner is the parent, the horse is the child and the racecourse is the testing arena.

“It’s never boring in this job, every day, every year is exciting, new parents, new children, different exams.”

One test he would admit was when he went to Japan with a runner at the Japan Cup.

The horse was injured and unable to walk, but Rausing’s race director Julian Lloyd, ‘the most incredible fixer’, was on hand to offer him something else – an Eric Clapton concert.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Prescott told Throughbred.com.

“But there I was, with his fans surrounding the car and I gave them a royal wave. I was there when he did his sound test, I went backstage, the whole thing.”

Prescott is an avid bullfighting and boxing fan – one year he took a girlfriend to Pamplona and another to a fight against Ghanaian great Azumah Nelson.

The latter didn’t like the experience at first – “the gumshield just missed her dress” – but Nelson had it on his feet.

“Janet jumped up and said, ‘Yeah!’ I said, ‘Got you!'” he told The Guardian.

“It’s a joy to see really nice, lovely people who are slightly affected by the real world.”

A trait of Prescott is his humility and loyalty, shown by going back 36 years with Rausing and remaining loyal to Morris for over a decade.

The only person he feels is a bit underpowered is another longtime collaborator, his assistant for over 20 years, William Butler.

“I might falter a bit more with this win, which is bad news for him,” he said with a grin and another twist of his tweed cap.

pi/no

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