Mark Prescott once feared he would never walk again due to a riding accident but he battled back to full fitness and having lit up the racing world with his wit and wisdom on Sunday he enjoyed his “greatest ever day”.
The 74-year-old trainer was speaking after his tough as teak mare Alpinista had won Europe’s greatest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
As God Save The King rang out Prescott stood alongside Alpinista’s owner, fellow septuagenarian and long-time supporter Kirsten Rausing and jockey Luke Morris, who has been with him for 11 years, on the winner’s podium.
Prescott may be a teetotaller and gave up cigars a while ago but what has not gone is the hereditary knight’s wit.
“This is without doubt my greatest day in racing,” he said.
“I thought my greatest day in racing was when I rode my first winner on my first ride aged 15.
“I walked the course afterwards with my then girlfriend (who was 17) and this chap was putting the divots back in to the ground.
“He asked who won the first? I replied ‘me’ and he winked and said ‘bloody good ride that’!
“That remained my greatest day till today.”
Prescott, who was reduced to tears after Alpinista’s victory, had very different emotions swirling round his head when aged 17 he was left paralysed after a riding fall.
“I think of it every day because it was the most influential moment in 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 for him.
“It was a salutary lesson and I was terrified every day, thinking: ‘I can lie here till I’m 90,'” he said.
“That lasted six weeks and then I suddenly felt somebody putting a pin in my foot.
“I was still terrified until all the feeling finally came back and I was able to leave hospital after nine months.”
Prescott has been training for over 50 years — he was the youngest trainer in Newmarket when he started — and likes to think of his job as being that of a headmaster.
Admittedly one who resisted the urge to expand his school as he has just 50 horses and has regularly turned down the opportunity to have more.
“As a trainer, I suppose I’m the headmaster,” he told Thoroughbred.com.
“The owner is the parent, the horse is the child, and the racecourse is the examination hall.
“In this job it never gets boring, every day, every year is stimulating, new parents, new children, different exams.”
One exam he would admit to failing was when he went to Japan with a runner in the Japan Cup.
The horse got injured and was unable to run but Rausing’s racing manager Julian Lloyd, “the most incredible fixer”, was on hand to provide him with some other entertainment — an Eric Clapton concert.
“I knew nothing about him,” Prescott told Throughbred.com.
“But there I was, with his fans surrounding the car and me waving regally out at them. I was there when he did his sound test, I went backstage, the whole thing.”
Prescott is an avid bullfighting and boxing fan — he took a girlfriend to Pamplona one year and another one to a bout of Ghanaian great Azumah Nelson.
The latter did not initially enjoy the experience — “the gumshield narrowly missed her dress” — but Nelson had her on her feet.
“Janet leapt up and said: ‘Yeah!’ I said: ‘Got you!'” he told The Guardian.
“There’s pleasure in seeing really nice, lovely people slightly compromised by the real world.”
A feature of Prescott is his humility plus his loyalty as attested to his going back 36 years with Rausing and staying faithful to Morris for over a decade.
The only person he feels may be a little underwhelmed is another long time employee his assistant of over 20 years, William Butler.
“With this win I may totter on for a bit longer which is bad news for him,” he said with a grin and another twist of his tweed cap.