At 74 years of age and in his 53rd season with a trainer’s licence, Sir Mark Prescott fizzed with the enthusiasm of a teenager in the winner’s enclosure here as he looked towards Paris on the first weekend in October. His five-year-old grey mare, Alpinista, had just held off a strong challenge from Tuesday, this year’s Oaks winner, to win the Group One Yorkshire Oaks. She will now head to Longchamp in less than two months as one of the favourites for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
It is hard to imagine a more popular winner. Prescott has sent out more than 1,300 winners since taking over the licence at Newmarket’s historic Heath House stable in 1970, when he was the youngest trainer in racing’s HQ by 19 years. Prescott has won Group Ones in Britain, Ireland, Germany and France, saddled the two-year-old Spindrifter to win no fewer than 13 times in 1980, and worked his way through 10 Cuban cigars a day for decades until finally – and somewhat apologetically – giving up five years ago.
Until now, though, the famously engaging master of Heath House has not had a horse with a genuine chance to win European racing’s showpiece event. “We had Foreign Affairs [in 2001],” he recalled. “We supplemented him for a jolly. He won the Magnet here and finished second in the Ebor, then the owners played up their money and they had a fantastic time.”
Alpinista, however, is a genuine contender, and the living embodiment of Prescott’s famous care and patience with his horses, having progressed with every run for the last two seasons. She had only a length in hand of Tuesday at the line, but never seemed likely to surrender the lead after Luke Morris sent her on about two furlongs out.
Two years ago, Alpinista finished five lengths behind Love in the same race so Thursday’s win highlighted her improvement since, completing what is now a five-race winning streak at Group One level that includes a defeat of Torquator Tasso, the subsequent Arc winner, in Germany last season.
“She’s a marvellous filly, she’s improved all the time and her great gift is that she’s very straightforward,” Prescott said. “She goes on more or less any ground, you can hold her up or make the running. She’s not worrying, she’s not boiling over, she’s not off her grub, she’s not lame – all the things that these horses do, so far, we’ve escaped. It’s like people, if they’re very straightforward, it’s amazing what you can do.”
Like several of the best horses to pass through Prescott’s hands, Alpinista runs in the green and white colours of Kirsten Rausing, who has owned five generations of the mare’s family. In an unusually open Arc market, she is now one of just three horses at single-figure odds – assuming that Baaeed, Wednesday’s International Stakes winner, misses the race – and can be backed at around 8-1, just behind Titleholder (6-1) and Torquator Tasso (7-1).
“I think she’ll go straight to the Arc,” Prescott said. “She’s just good enough to go close. It’s there, you’ve got a chance, and therefore you must go. I just wouldn’t want it very, very soft. It’s been dry for so long now that I’m expecting a swimming race, but there you are.”
TV tips for Friday
It is 15 years since Kingsgate Native became the last juvenile to win the Group One Nunthorpe Stakes and eight two-year-olds have tried and failed to emulate him since. Few arrived on the Knavesmire with such obvious claims at The Platinum Queen, though, and Richard Fahey’s filly is an excellent bet for Friday’s feature race at around 3-1.
The Platinum Queen has won three times from four starts to date and picked up £38,190 in prize money for the Middleham Park Racing syndicate which owns her. That has effectively been gambled on her run in Friday’s race, as her supplementary entry cost £40,000. The only blip on her record so far was a no-show in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, when she got an early bump and failed to recover.
But The Platinum Queen (3.35) has built on that experience in two subsequent wins and gets 22lb from the favourite, Royal Acclaim. Hollie Doyle, one of the few jockeys around who can ride at 8st 2lb, takes the reins and could well claim her third Group One win in as many months.
York 1.50: Cormier has been a model of consistency both on the Flat and over jumps since his switch to Brian Ellison’s yard in early 2020 and can follow up his recent win at Chester, which was a new career-best on the level.
York 2.25: The aura of invincibility which once surrounded Stradivarius is long gone but the eight-year-old remains unbeaten in his six starts at York and could raise the roof with a seventh success here.
Carlisle: 1.00 Castan 1.30 Sophia’s Starlight 2.05 Sir Benedict 2.40 Roaring Ralph 3.10 The Navigator 3.45 Captain Corelli 4.20 Judgment Call 4.55 Molinari
Newbury: 1.10 Sassy Belle 1.40 Uffington 2.15 Bell Shot 2.50 Auditor 3.20 Dark Mystery 3.50 Youthful King
York: 1.50 Cormier (nb) 2.25 Stradivarius 3.00 Marshman 3.35 The Platinum Queen (nap) 4.10 Shampion 4.45 Mahboobah 5.20 Bolthole
Salisbury: 4.52 Gavi Di Gavi 5.27 Hello Deira 6.00 Hurtle 6.35 Dancing Magic 7.10 Nine Dragons 7.45 Nova Legend
Newcastle: 5.23 The Churchill Lad 5.54 Bunker Bay 6.29 Arch Moon 7.04 Northbound 7.39 Bashawaat 8.14 Mr Trevor 8.45 Enderman
Wolverhampton: 6.05 Jack Yeats 6.40 Talamanca 7.15 Okeechobee 7.50 Kitten’s Dream 8.25 Young Winston 9.00 Timestamp
York 3.00: Despite costing a fraction of some of his rivals here, Marshman may be worth an interest at around 4-1 after thrashing his field by nearly nine lengths at Thirsk last week and posting an excellent time in the process.
York 3.35: Shampion must learn to settle but Roger Varian’s filly has plenty of time to do so with just three runs in the book so far. The time of her win at Windsor 18 days ago suggests an opening mark of 84 is very fair.