Sorry state of affairs for plotter par excellence
First published on Sunday, July 5, 2015
Heath House, Sir Mark Prescott's red-brick redoubt, has an entirely deserved reputation for the expertly executed coup, but those who live by the sword are bound, on occasions, to get impaled on it.
Two of the greatest finger-burners were the defeat of the admirable Foreign Affairs in an important handicap at Epsom on Derby day in 2001 and later the same year the failure of 7-2 favourite Alleluia to win the Cesarewitch. Both were reverses on an industrial scale.
Foreign Affairs, a magnificent specimen, went on to win York's John Smith's Cup and get touched off when favourite for the Ebor before ending the season running in the Arc.
The filly who beat him was Lailani, who on her next three runs won a trio of Group 1 races – the Irish Oaks, the Nassau at Goodwood and Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont. Forget 'laugh', you don't know whether to cry or cry a bit more.
Alleluia, officially 19lb well-in for the Ces, was on the point of bolting up when fracturing her pelvis. When you hear anyone trot out the old saying "There is a God", don't believe them.
Sir Mark says: "It was Foreign Affairs' first run of the season and he had been working outstandingly well. I thought he had 10lb to 14lb in hand for Epsom.
"My great friend Graham Rock, a master in all betting matters, confessed he had 'opened my shoulders' which was not an expression he used lightly.
"Foreign Affairs was owned by Charlie Walker who is now part of the Osborne House syndicate. When he led a furlong and a half out all seemed well with the world.
"Then that nice Ed Dunlop's filly, who was miles back turning into the straight, comes and mows us down and we watched in stunned silence.
"In bullfighting the Spanish word for a wound is 'cornada' and eventually Rock turned to me and said 'bad cornada in the wallet old chap'.
"Charlie, Graham and I all put on a good face and the widest of smiles and duly went and did the 'well done Ed' part of proceedings. As we walked away Rock said 'makes you proud to be British!'
"Graham was an exceptional man in so many ways and when he was under fire he was absolutely the best – not least when he was dying and it will be 14 years this autumn since he died.
"The end room on the ground floor here was where he worked. It has always been known as Rock's office and it always will be."
Alleluia, bred and owned by two of racing's most knowledgeable grand dames, Sonia Rogers and Kirsten Rausing, was one of those three-yearold fillies who hit an upward curve and never stop improving.
Sir Mark recalls: "She was small and wispy and never won a gallop in her life. First time out that season she won at Nottingham in June over ten furlongs with Jamie Mackay up and did it nicely, staying on.
"Each time we stepped her up in trip she got better and by September she had won five out of six and we decided to let her take her chance in the Doncaster Cup."
There were 11 runners that afternoon on Town Moor and Alleluia, with Mackay in the saddle again, had no chance on official ratings. Off a mark of 86 she was 16lb below the next horse above her and 34lb inferior to the two best stayers in the race.
Sir Mark says: "The Cesarewitch weights were out by then and I think we had a little bit on. Then she goes and wins the Doncaster Cup – the first three-year-old filly of the century to do so – and with a 7lb penalty that got us in nicely for Newmarket at just over 8st, which was around George Duffield's minimum."
I well remember Alleluia springing her 14-1 surprise at Donny but the real fun started when some bright spark pointed out that she was a Ces entry and would be pitched in for the race.
Sir Mark was in Kentucky at the sales but Rausing was on hand and highly delighted to have some valuable Group 3 black type for her filly.
When the word Cesarewitch was mentioned to Rausing, who is not short of humour, she looked rather askance at the gathered hacks and said: "But it's a handicap!" as if one of the most famous staying races was not the sort of thing respectable folk should be indulging in.
Behind the scenes a genteel tug of war then began between the two indomitable old friends – the Misses Rogers and Rausing.
Kirsten favoured some more black type in the Jockey Club Cup while Sonia was keen on the Cesarewitch, which carried the decent prize of £78,000. I strongly suspect that the trainer was discreetly in the Rogers camp while trying to teach Rausing how to utter the word Cesarewitch without a small scowl.
Sir Mark, a boxing ref among his other talents, claims (somewhat dubiously) that he remained above the battle and says: "I have refereed enough fights in my life to know when not to step in.
"Eventually the decision was made to run in the Cesarewitch. I distinctly remember getting ready to go racing and tying my tie in Heath House and thinking 'it will require an Act of Parliament or a broken leg to get this filly beaten today'.
"In the paddock beforehand Miss Rausing was still uneasy and pointed out that a huge field represented more dangers for the filly than a black type race.
"Alleluia cruised throughout and was running away coming to the Bushes when she suddenly juddered and faded to finish sixth. She had fractured her pelvis."
Sir Mark and Rogers were first to Alleluia when she was being unsaddled and both must have been slightly concerned as to what might happen next.
Finally Rausing swept in and, looking down at Prescott and Rogers, nailed the situation with one pithily magnificent line, saying: "Comment, I feel, is superfluous."
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