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The Ashforth profile: An engaging disciplinarian; Sir Mark Prescott has long been recognised as a skilful and intelligent trainer.

He'll make a wonderful obituary, especially if he delivers it himself. Sir Mark Prescott, uncompromising in his 1950s cardigan, hair retreating over his domed head, teeth clamped on a cigar, breathing out challenge. No-one says the f-word like Prescott.

It's surprising that training has held his interest for so long, but Prescott relishes the recurring competitive challenge, the attempt to succeed by force of intellect, the test of character, the life.

Prescott is that rare creature-a traditionalist, willing, and able, to debate a case on the evidence, a strain perhaps inherited from a family of lawyers. In Prescott's hands, hare coursing becomes a kindness, and bullfighting an expression of the spirit of man and beast at their best.

One of the most intelligent and interesting figures in racing, his is an unusual mix of interests. Opera and boxing, the Marx brothers and the Waterloo Cup, running a book at Powerstown Park, reading one at home, writing one.

The qualities that Prescott admires are those of inner strength, tested in adversity and in competition-loyalty, courage, facing up to the enemy, without and within. His heroes are men like Captain Oates and Gordon Wilson, whose spirit was tested to the limit after his daughter was killed in the Enniskillen bomb. Prescott is the sort of man who would refuse a blindfold.

At 52, he is selfish, if a determination to arrange your life to suit yourself is selfish. Some women would accuse him of lacking emotional commitment. Jerry Hall once spoke of men's desire for women to be gourmet cooks in the kitchen and whores in the bedroom. There's not much sign of cooking at Heath House.

Prescott does what he wants, lives out the life of his choice, with rare energy and humour, and rarer complaint, training horses for his own pleasure and that of people he likes. "I'd rather train a bad horse for someone I like than a good horse for someone I don't like. In a couple of years, the good horse will be gone and you're stuck with someone you can't stand."

That is Prescott-pithy, forthright, distinctive, engaging, but not accidental. The quotable lines and amusing anecdotes are the product of a reflective mind, their value doubled in delivery. Unsurprisingly, he is a popular after-dinner speaker.

He was once offered the chance to train for owners who could have brought him

top-class horses, if he had been prepared to expand his 50-box yard, for which there is a perpetual waiting list. Owners waiting to be educated, and entertained. Prescott preferred to keep the number of legs down to a level he could feel himself, every evening, and know, and train, to his own exacting standards.

Prescott's grandfather, Colonel Sir William Prescott, was a man of diverse talents-a barrister, fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board, Grand Deacon of the United Grand Lodge of England, High Sheriff of three counties, chairman of Middlesex County Council, Conservative MP for North Tottenham.

The first baronet had two sons. Prescott's father, Major William Stanley Prescott, was the younger, also a barrister, also an MP. In 1951, when Mark was three, his parents divorced. His mother married Daniel Orme, an influential figure in Mark's childhood. Mark's father died when he was 14.

Three years later, in 1965, his uncle, Sir Richard Stanley Prescott, also died and Prescott inherited the title. Sir Mark might have made a good barrister, but he had already set out in a different direction, learning about problem horses at Sid Kernick's Devon yard. When Prescott declared himself a baronet, they swept the yard in front of his knighted feet in amused disbelief.

A family friend, Frances Selley, had introduced Prescott to racing and to riding. During holidays from Harrow, he cycled the seven miles from Ipplepen to Kingsteignton, his enthusiasm his own, his timekeeping instilled by his stepfather.

In 1964, aged 16, Prescott made a winning debut on Monarain in a three-horse race at Wincanton at 100-7, and went on to ride a lot of bad horses for bad trainers, finally breaking his back in a fall at Wye.

By that time, Prescott had graduated to Frank Cundell's Aston Tirrold yard and soon moved on to be assistant to Jack Waugh at Heath House. On Waugh's retirement, in 1970, Prescott became Newmarket's youngest trainer, inheriting stable apprentice George Duffield together with Lady Macdonald-Buchanan's Belle Royale, who supplied Prescott with his first training success, at Teesside Park in April 1971.

The Macdonald-Buchanans, Lord and Lady Fairhaven and Major Michael Wyatt were typical of Prescott's owner-breeder patrons, and Teesside Park was a typical destination.

His horses travelled to the races they were most likely to win, and Prescott delighted, and still delights, in extracting the most that skilful placing and training can extract from good or, more often, bad material.

If the `Sir' conjures up images of playing at work, it is a misperception. At work, everything is dedication, knowledge, experience, detail and diligence. Horse collars cleaned every evening, metal polished twice a week, owners phoned every Sunday morning, horses immaculate for the sales, trainer early to rise.

Prescott cultivates the image of a disciplinarian with a fierce temper and unpleasant streak but, although he may be an unforgiving man if crossed, his staff, led by Colin Nutter, stay on, partly because they know where they stand. Prescott is, of course, enormously kind and thoughtful.

Spindrifter and Misty Halo, Mandalus, Marching On, Dawn Review, Heave To and Herradura-all profilic winners, who established Prescott's genius with the programme book. Quinlan Terry's victory in the 1988 Cambridgeshire paid for the swimming pool; Pasternak's triumph in the 1997 Cambridgeshire put paid to the bookmakers.

But Prescott's first Group 1 winner did not arrive until 1996, when Pivotal won the Nunthorpe Stakes. Until recently, most of the yard's horses were home-bred slow, or auction cheap. Last Second and Alborada have only partly eased the irritation of a reputation for training bad horses well. Prescott is proud of his statistics, but he wishes they had been translated into better horses.

He's not complaining. One of his most used expressions is: "How lucky can you be?" That's how he sees his life. It's a full one, the one Prescott chose.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Ashforth, David
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 26, 2000
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