Sir Mark Prescott said he would have been ashamed when he started out 53 years ago never to have won a domestic Classic, but he more than made up for that omission when Alpinista, under a superb ride from Luke Morris, galloped through a swamp to win the 101st Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The race may have been run in a cloudburst but from a British perspective it was one of the most popular Arc results in recent times, as the trainer, whose last visit to Longchamp was when the franc was legal tender and who prefers to spend his Sunday morning’s ringing round his 59 owners, saw the grey mare cruise to the front just over a furlong out with Morris having sat motionless to that point.
She and the jockey, having his first ride in the race, held off the late thrusts of Vadeni and last year’s winner, Torquator Tasso, by half a length and a neck.
“It’s the best day of my racing life,” admitted Prescott, who gets up at 3.30am every day. “I always thought when I rode a winner on my first ride, aged 16 – a horse with no chance of winning, and it won – that things couldn’t get better. I had a girlfriend with me that day, we walked down the track afterwards. There was a chap filling in the divots who asked ‘what won the first?’ and I was able to say ‘I did’. I didn’t think I’d ever better that!”
He has been associated with owner Kirsten Rausing, the Swedish Tetra-Pak heiress who, through her passion for the thoroughbred, has become the quintessential British owner-breeder, for 36 years and trained Alpinista’s relations Alborada and Albanova - this mare's granddam - who previously kept the Group One wins ticking over at Heath House.
“She has improved with each run and there was no reason to believe that she hadn’t improved again,” he added of the five-year-old Frankel mare, who is now undefeated in two seasons. “But human nature being what it is, I wondered whether she had. She’s been faultless for two years and so has the jockey. This is her best race and every single one has been better than the one before.
“I’ve trained 36 years for Miss Rausing, Luke’s been with me 11 – it’s hard to imagine a better day if you’re a trainer. Poor William [Butler], my assistant trainer [and heir apparent to Heath House], he’ll regard that win with mixed emotions because it’ll keep me tottering on for a bit longer.
“His first day with me 23 years ago was when Alborada had her last gallop before her second Champion Stakes – and this mare is two generations down.”
Morris, 33, is vastly experienced but, for most of his career, quantity rather than quality has been his stock-in trade. On Sunday, however, he delivered the sublimest of rides when it really mattered. It was his ninth Group One win, while the two jockeys chasing him down in the last half-furlong, Christophe Soumillon and Frankie Dettori, had won nearly as many (eight) Arcs between them.
He chivvied Alpinista out of the stalls to get a good pitch on the heels of the front-running Titleholder, went the shortest way, took her back when he felt he was too near the action and, rather than getting involved in a slogging match, waited until a furlong out before unleashing the mare.
“I was a bit closer than I wanted to be at one stage but I was able to sit to one furlong out,” he explained. “I watched [reruns of] 25 Arcs last week and I’ve never seen a winner sit to the furlong pole. She must be good. In a 20-runner Arc, I couldn’t imagine it would go as smooth as it did.
“I’d be someone who would be quite level; I never get too high or too low, but I was having to hold back the tears coming back in. It’s the pinnacle of my career.”
It has all come together for Rausing lately. Three weeks ago, Eldar Eldarov, a colt she bred, won the St Leger. “I’m delighted and extremely grateful,” she said. “Alpinista is my sixth-generation homebred and none of it would be possible without the home team, the master trainer Sir Mark Prescott, and Luke, who has ridden her to all her Group One wins.”
Alpinista will retire to the owner’s Lanwades Stud next year to continue the dynasty but a swansong at the Breeders’ Cup or in the Japan Cup, in which victory would earn her a £3 million bonus, will come into consideration.
It was a good day for the British, with a victory for Hollie Doyle on The Platinum Queen in the Abbaye and Dettori on Kinross in the Foret, but, for once, they were both playing second fiddle to Morris.