Sir Mark Prescott may be part of the Newmarket training scene yet he has always appeared to inhabit a separate space. While his colleagues are busy preparing their string for the start of the Flat campaign in March, Prescott prefers a more patient approach; most of his horses only get going towards the end of May, peaking in the summer months.
Will this set-up change once William Butler assumes the licence? Prescott has started the handover process to his long-time assistant but has not put a definitive timeframe in place for when there will be a new master at Heath House stables.
Prescott has ruled the roost since succeeding Jack Waugh in 1970 at the tender age of 22
Prescott has ruled the roost since succeeding Jack Waugh in 1970 at the tender age of 22. There have been plenty of Group 1 triumphs over the years, with horses of the calibre of Pivotal and Alborada, while the handler has few peers when it comes to placing handicappers. A runner with three ‘duck eggs’ next to its name is no indicator of talent when emerging from this source.
It used to be that Prescott would move on his assistant trainer every two years, yet Butler’s apprenticeship has now lasted 18 years, proof that a suitable successor has been found, as he explains to Julian Muscat (The Big Interview, pages 42-46).
“I suppose I couldn’t really face teaching another fellow from scratch and this fellow [Butler] seemed all right,” Prescott says. “My assistants have all been pretty good but I thought overall that William was probably the best of them. So I bet a very nice house on him – I bought it for him – and told him he could take over one day. I also told him if he didn’t want to stay, he could leave any time he liked.
“The nice thing for William is that he hasn’t yet had the ultimate responsibility, but the day you start training is the last day off you ever have. Never again will that luxury be his. That is what William wants, of course. He will have it soon enough.”
The current flagbearer for Heath House is the top-class sprinting filly Marsha, who beat the boys in last year’s Prix de l’Abbaye, and further afield it has also been the girls setting the standard on the racecourse this year.
Khalid Abdullah’s Enable, trained by John Gosden, is undoubtedly the superstar filly, following her Oaks success with an easy win in the Irish Oaks, then producing a thrilling performance against her older rivals in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, when she accounted for Eclipse victor Ulysses by a wide margin.
Hot on her heels is Coolmore’s dual Guineas and Coronation Stakes heroine Winter, in the care of Aidan O’Brien, who took the step up to ten furlongs in her stride by romping home in the Nassau Stakes at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
So often racing talks up potential battles between the colts but here are two fillies that really would provide a showdown for everyone to savour.
There have been some interesting/controversial stories produced in the racing press in recent times – which has not escaped the attention of Tony Morris (pages 30-31) – so here’s my contribution to the collection: a match race between Enable and Winter over ten furlongs, winner-takes-all.
Of course, they could meet in this year’s Champion Stakes, but wouldn’t a contest between these two females – possibly on the same card – create exactly the kind of wider media interest racing craves?
It’s fillies that occupy the mind of owner-breeder Steve Parkin, who has set out to create an elite breeding operation at his North Yorkshire stud, Branton Court (pages 54-58).
The recent sale of Ballymacoll Stud is just one example of the decline in the number of traditional owner-breeders that race thoroughbreds for pleasure. It’s reassuring that men like Parkin are still prepared to invest so heavily in our sport. Let’s hope he gets his rewards on the racecourse.