Aged 74 and in his 53rd season with a trainer’s licence, Sir Mark Prescott was bubbling 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 gray 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 go to Longchamp in less than two months as one of the favorites for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
It is hard to imagine a more popular winner. Prescott has sired more than 1,300 winners since taking over the license at Newmarket’s historic Heath House Stable in 1970, when he was the youngest trainer at the racing headquarters at 19. Prescott has won Group 1s in Britain, Ireland, Germany and France, rode the two-year-old Spindrifter to victory no fewer than 13 times in 1980, and worked his way through 10 Cuban cigars a day for decades before finally – and a bit apologetic – gave up five years ago.
Until now, however, the famously engaging champion of Heath House has not had a horse with a real chance of winning a European racing event. “We had foreign affairs [in 2001]”, he recalled. “We supplemented him for a funny. He won the magnet here and was second in Ebor, then the owners played up their money and they had a fantastic time.”
However, Alpinista is a genuine contender, and the living embodiment of Prescott’s famous care and patience with his horses, having progressed in every race for the past two seasons. She was just a length in hand on Tuesday at the line but never looked likely to relinquish the lead after Luke Morris sent her around 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 1 level that includes a defeat of Torquator Tasso, the subsequent Arc- the winner, in Germany last season.
“She’s a fantastic filly, she’s been improving all the time and her big gift is that she’s very straightforward,” Prescott said. “She walks on pretty much any ground, you can hold her up or run. She doesn’t worry, she doesn’t boil over, she doesn’t rest, she isn’t lame – all the things that these horses do, so far, we’ve gotten away with. It’s like people, if they’re really good, 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 colors of Kirsten Rausing, who has owned five generations of the mare’s family. In an unusually open Arc market, she is now one of only three horses with single-figure odds – assuming 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 is there, you have a chance, and therefore you must go. I just don’t want it very, very soft. It’s been dry for so long now that I’m expecting a swim, 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 at the Knavesmire with such obvious claims on The Platinum Queen, 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 has collected £38,190 in prize money for the Middleham Park Racing syndicate who own her. Her run has actually been gambled on 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 suffered an early bump and was unable to recover.
But The Platinum Queen (3.35) has built on that experience in two consecutive wins and gets 22lb from the favourite, Royal Acclaim. Hollie Doyle, one of the few jockeys who can ride 8st 2lb, takes the reins and could well claim her third Group 1 win in as many months.
York 1.50: Cormier has been a model of consistency both on the flat and over jumps since switching to Brian Ellison’s farm in early 2020 and can follow up his recent win at Chester, which was a new career best at the level.
York 2.25: The aura of invincibility that once surrounded Stradivarius is long gone but the eight-year-old remains unbeaten in his six starts at York and could raise the bar with a seventh success here.
York 3.00: Despite costing a fraction of some of his rivals here, Marshman could be worth interest at around 4-1 after beating his field by almost nine lengths at Thirsk last week and posting an excellent time in the process.
York 3.35: Champion needs to learn to settle but Roger Varian’s filly has plenty of time to do so with only three races in the book so far. The timing of her win at Windsor 18 days ago suggests an opening score of 84 is very fair.