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Sir Mark Prescott Q&A: 'A dark horse to follow in 2015? Certainly not!'

19 January 2015

What piece of wisdom would you pass on to a youngster in racing? 
You need luck to get started and skill to keep going – and hard work at all times.

What’s your biggest ambition in racing? 
To win the Derby, but also to deserve the respect of my colleagues, in that, be the race big or small, when going through the entries, they always look at one of mine twice.

Who would play you in a film of your life? 
Jack Nicholson – but would he be grumpy enough?

What’s your favourite smell? 
A bull ring on a hot summer’s evening before the event starts: sand, perfume, cigar smoke, conversation buzzing, anticipation . . .

What’s the most overrated thing in the world? 
Everything, if you don’t have the good fortune to enjoy good health.

What was the last book you read? 
Jeremy Thorpe by Michael Bloch. Poor Mr Thorpe, who died last month, was the adjacent MP to where I was born. Imagine the excitement when, as leader of the Liberal Party, he was tried for conspiracy to murder. I doubt we can expect such fireworks from Mr Clegg.

What was the last television series you really loved? 
The Forsyte Saga (BBC, 1967) with Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter. Since I started to train I’ve never had the time to follow a series, episode by episode.

Give us a playlist of your favourite five songs and artists 
I’ll give you five of the eight Desert Island Discs I’d choose if famous enough to be asked: 1. He Who Would Valiant Be – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, 1684 2. Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, Pietro Mascagni 3. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969 4. I Hear You Calling Me – (Count) John McCormack, 1911 5. It Ain’t Me Babe – Bob Dylan, 1964. Something for every occasion and a bit of nostalgia chucked in.

What was the biggest disappointment of your career? 
Being such a bad National Hunt jockey.

Which person do you most admire and why? 
In history, Sir Alexander Fleming, whose invention of antibiotics has saved half the civilised world. More recently Gordon Wilson, who was blown up with his daughter Marie in an IRA outrage at Enniskillen. He held her hand as she died and afterwards proclaimed, “I bear them no malice”. He died in 1995. And today, probably nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who contracted Ebola while leaving her homeland to save children’s lives thousands of miles away.

What’s the best bet you’ve ever had? 
Quinlan Terry in the 1988 Cambridgeshire, also Rocket Song at Hamilton while Royal Ascot was on in about the same year. In the turmoil of the royal meeting the layers took their eyes off the ball for once, in those happy, pre-mobile phone days.

What is your earliest racing memory? 
I was taken by my stepfather to Newton Abbot races with the lady who taught me to ride (Mrs Selley). We stood at the last fence and I was too small to see over it. Tim Brookshaw fell last time round, bringing down two others. In the melee, he was underneath all three horses and was, to my young eyes, obviously dead. But he slowly rose to his feet, chucked his stick to the ground, grunted an audible “f****** hell” and then trudged back to the stands. “What a man!” I thought, and never wanted to do anything else.

If you were taking someone racing for the first time, where would you go and why? 
Fontwell. I’d stand them at the intersection to watch a chase so they could see the four fences jumped each circuit, close up, and thus respect the courage and skill of man and beast forever.

What was the last film you saw? 
Mr Turner.

Who or what really annoys you? 
Tardiness and weather forecasters who, instead of confining themselves to telling us what the weather will be, insist on telling us we will be “pleased to hear” it’s going to be rainy or sunny. What makes them think they know what is good for the listener?

Give us a horse, trainer and jockey to watch out for
It would be invidious to name them, but in my opinion there are far too many good young trainers about these days.

What’s the best place you’ve ever visited? 
Kington racecourse, in the Welsh Marches, and still clearly visible – a circular strip of green grass cut into the heather on the top of Hergest Ridge, 1,397ft above sea level. The course was last raced on in 1876. On a fine day it affords views of six counties and is worth every stride of the coronary-inducing walk to the top.

What’s your favourite restaurant/pub for a night out? 
A small restaurant in a village called Reynes, three miles from Ceret in France and seven miles from the Spanish border. Ceret is a Roman town in the foot of the Pyrenees with a fine viaduct, a small bull ring and a splendid modern art museum. The restaurant has room for only 14 people and has my ideal menu – foie gras, steak tartare and iles flottantes – prepared by the owner and served by his wife.

What’s your biggest fear? 
A debilitating stroke and failure at work.

What was the best day of your racing life? 
There is only one first kiss and only one first winner, so I’d have to take my first winner, aged 16, on Monorain at Wincanton, on my first ride in public. I thought I was the messiah that National Hunt racing had been waiting for, but it took me nearly two years to ride another winner.

What’s the worst thing anyone has said to you? 
I hit the front too soon on one trained by my governor, Frank Cundell, at Taunton. As I dismounted in the second spot, I tried to explain the circumstances and said: “The leaders were coming back and I thought . . .” “You thought!” he said. “You thought! You’ve never had a thought in your f****** life! When you can think, I’ll give you a diploma and you can hang it at the foot of your bed and it will say: ‘I, Sir Mark f****** Prescott, am capable of thought.’ Until then you can assume you’ve never had a thought in your life – now clear off!”

How hopeful are you that your desire to see the disqualification of horses whose riders break the whip rules will be implemented? 
One day it will have to come and I hope it comes before we have more fruitless bans, fines and inquiries after big races that only play into the abolitionists’ hands. It is simplicity itself and will result in: no bans, no fines, no suspensions; each jockey knowing what he can and can’t do; the best horse winning.

How high are your hopes for Pallasator this year? 
Sheikh Fahad hopes for a soft-ground Gold Cup and I hope the horse behaves himself in the preliminaries.

Would you be kind enough to name a darker horse from Heath House to follow in 2015? 
Certainly not!

And, finally, what did you have for breakfast this morning? 
At 5.15am, while reading the Daily Telegraph and marking up the Racing Post, a bowl of All-Bran, a dry bit of burnt toast and a cup of black tea.

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