Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…
RECENTLY, I explained why Jamie Spencer was such a favourite jockey of mine – this time I’m nominating my favourite trainer……
“Look after those f***ing owner/breeders,” was, reported the excellent Thoroughbred Daily News columnist Emma Berry, recently, the advice given by the now retired trainer Guy Harwood to Sir Mark Prescott, which obviously went on to serve the latter well, as all Sir Mark’s Group 1 winners, thus far, have been homebred by various owners.
Sir Mark, of course, sent out Alpinista to win the Arc last season from his storied Heath House Stables in Newmarket, from which beautiful and historic location, winners have been sent out for 185 years – just a little longer than Sir Mark has operated from there, since 1970.
Whenever I go racing or fancy a bet on the box, his is the first name I look for when considering what to back.
I even once raised the question with Sir Mark about whether he would be interested in writing an autobiography, or, with a suitable writer on board (ahem!), a biography. I felt qualified to do so as we have in common that we both attended school in Harrow – he at the famous school up on the Hill, myself at the somewhat less celebrated Harrow County below the Hill. He indicated that he didn’t feel the time was right just then.
I’d say it is now very right, at the moment.
In his early teens, Sir Mark broke his back and was in hospital for 18 months, after his mount slipped up on the flat at Wye racecourse. That, unsurprisingly, was no fun, he admits: ‘I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t swallow, I couldn’t blink for nine weeks.’
Over the years I have become ever more certain that the racing world would lap up a book about the storied life of this immaculately polite, always neatly turned out, proper gentleman, which has, of course, included somewhat controversial support for bullfighting, fox hunting and hare coursing.
He even once told my old sparring partner, Peter Oborne of The Spectator that ‘I’d rather win the Waterloo Cup’ (coursing’s main prize before it was banned) than train the Derby winner.
A journalist friend of mine, Will Buckley, who some have also been known to describe as ever so slightly eccentric, told me about the time he went to interview Sir Mark – who answered the question Will put to him about whether he believed in life after death by responding ‘I’m not prepared to bet against it.’
And then he continued, to tell Will how he had prepared in advance for the ultimate day of reckoning – ‘I wanted to find myself a nice plot with some agreeable people around. I had to contact the Parks and Recreation authority. There was a very nice fellow, he showed me the graveyard – and there was Fred Archer, Mr Dawson, Mr Waugh- lost of nice people. I found a nice corner and said ‘I want three plots down there’. And he said, Would that be for Sir and Lady Prescott and your son and heir?’
‘Certainly not’, I replied – ‘It’s so I don’t have any f***er next to me.”
Sir Mark, no great believer in political correctness, one assumes, once declared, All I need out of life is a cigar, to go see a bullfight and have the freedom to turn up the heating when I want to.’
When Lester Piggott died, Sir Mark shared a memory of a different kind of race to those the ‘Long Fellow’ was so intent on winning on course: ‘I went down the hill into Royston, and Piggott was (driving) right behind me. There was a short-cut in those days at a pub called The Blackbirds and I hurtled into it – you had to turn right – but lo and behold, there’s Piggott going the wrong way around the roundabout to get in front! No wonder he was champion jockey.’
Although I was a backer of Alpinista for the Arc last year, my greatest Prescott punt was on a horse of his called Humoreuse, which was running at Cagnes-sur-Mer in France some years ago, when some friends and I were enjoying a few days racing out there and had been told en route to the track to get on Sir Mark’s runner by someone we believed to be ‘in the know’.
We ensconced ourselves in a cosy nook in the course restaurant, and celebrated joyfully as Sir Mark’s 7/1 chance duly romped home, to tumultuous cheers from our gathering.
Only afterwards did those of us on our table wonder why other members of the racing trip with us were not showing the same joy.
It transpired that an urgent late message had been sent around to our group, but clearly not finding it’s way to our table, warning us all NOT to back the horse as it wouldn’t like the going and was badly drawn. Yet, clearly emulating its trainer, the horse had found a way to win against the odds.
But the misinformation would certainly not have emanated from Sir Mark himself, whose attention to detail for his owners is such that, as he told racing journalist Steve Dennis last year: ‘Every Sunday I sit down and phone all 59 of my owners to tell them how their horse is, inform them of plans. I find the mental aspect of the job incredibly absorbing, there’s something to stimulate me every day. I’ll try to eke it out a little longer.’
To which the vast majority of those interested in racing will declare, ‘Hear, hear’ – except, possibly, one named William Butler, his assistant trainer, who has now been wondering when he may be called upon to take over from a retiring Sir Mark – for well over twenty years.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.