Alpinista, the Silver Queen of Longchamp

October 5, 2022

PARIS—Nothing better than a plan that comes off. And even better when it’s been so long in the pipeline. 

It was 21 years of waiting, after a fateful experience in Paris, that led Sir Mark Prescott to vow never to visit France again, between then and his visit for his hoodoo from that day to be vanquished.

All he needed was a steadfast, durable horse and a willing partner to elevate him to the top table of French Racing again, and to drink from its most revered well for the first time. That experience finally came as his charge Alpinista (GB) and her jockey Luke Morris charged through the mud at Longchamp, where many fancied rivals floundered, to take the 101strunning of the most prestigious event in European Flat Racing, the Qatar Prix de l‘Arc De Triomphe.

Having beaten last year’s winner Torquator Tasso two months before he tasted victory in the Blue Riband event, in the Longines 131st Grosser Preis von Berlin at Hoppegarten in August 2021, the plan had always been to come to Longchamp for this renewal, should the mare stay fit, healthy and sound. 

She needed to be so, and indeed on her best form today, as the ground was already very soft before the heavens opened. As the crowd at Longchamp raised umbrellas and took cover, one or two wondered if the weather gods had backed last year’s victor to repeat the feat, a proven mudlark who stays all day, by turning on the taps.

Alpinista, however, was having none of it. Settled close to the fore in no further back than fifth place in the slog through the sodden turf of Longchamp, she made eye catching progress to take dead aim at the leader Titleholder, Japan’s best hope. Their hunt for a first Arc continues as their main challenger dropped away, his early exertions taking their toll. 

By contrast, Luke Morris was sat in a comfortable position, bringing his mount to the fore in effortless fashion, whilst every other jockey was asking their mount serious questions, and other mounts trailing behind as the mud took its prisoners. Sliding in past the weakening Titleholder and anchoring to the inside rail, the pair looked a cut above anything that dared to chase them down, even daring to go past the 300m pole without going into full cry.

At just over 1 furlong to run Luke finally pressed the button and asked his mount, chasing her 8th consecutive win and sixth Group 1 success in a row, to go and win her race. Vadeni and last year’s victor Torquator Tasso were amongst the only horses to go after the leader, but despite their game efforts they could not chase down the daughter of Frankel, and it was the voice of Luke who was the loudest of them all as the field crossed the line. 

Scenes of jubilation were aplenty with connections, with the groom Annabel clearly emotional at the victory she had just witnessed. She noted to assembled reporters afterwards that her idol was “the sweetest horse” and was reduced to tears. 

“I’m just so proud of this horse”, she later added to the media, who all wanted to hear from the devoted groom who has been with the mare for nearly every step of the journey since they both started at Heath House Stables.

Even Luke looked shellshocked, the weight and realization of the achievement finally seeming to sink in after he crossed the line and rounded the far bend. Alpinista had become the first 5-year-old mare since 1937 to land the highlight of the French season, with Corrida’s victory since providing a monumental challenge for every other challenger.

Both the great Arc fillies of recent years, Treve and Enable, were unable to buck the trend when they had a go at it, the latter perilously close to doing so had a certain Waldgeist not turned up like a steam train to derail her chances at the last station. Already victors in 2013/14 and 2017/18 respectively, they could not break the curse of being a five-year-old mare in the Arc. 

However, this extraordinary mare, is no ordinary mare. Luke reflected on this post race, stating that “I was worried with the rain but she’s a remarkable filly. She’s so versatile, and so tough.”

“When I needed her, she dug in very deep for me”, he noted, a sense of astonished exaltation still evident in his voice. 

“I must have watched 25 Arcs (this week), and I’ve not seen one sit to the furlong pole”, highlighting his dedication and how serious he took the occasion, but also a sense of disbelief at how effortlessly he scythed past and through his rivals, took the race by the scruff of the neck and would not let go.

“It’s the pinnacle of my career and it’s an unbelievably special day. He’s an unbelievable trainer.”

“I’m so lucky to ride for him.”

Sir Mark Prescott was typically philosophical when speaking afterwards, the media scrum clearly fixated on the mastermind of a plan that has been over a year in the making. And whilst he had made merry of other European targets in the past, this seemed like the pinnacle of a career with victory in the premier event of the European Flat calendar.

“Best day of my racing life. This was the best 10 minutes of my racing life.”

“I’ve trained for Ms Rausing for thirty-five years, and I trained Alpinista’s grandmother and the mother, and Luke has been with me for eleven years”.

The winner’s meteoric rise to racing’s top seat is even more impressive when you consider her routing to the throne, having landed the Grand Prix De Saint-Cloud and Yorkshire Oaks this year, before taking a crack at the challenge set before her today.

Indeed, her trainer does feel as though he has a “marvellous” mare on his hands, and even he was stoutly platonic in his admiration for her. 

“I think she has improved every single run in the last two years”, he noted. 

Whether Alpinista runs again will have to be seen, especially as by winning this race she has gained automatic qualification for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (Group 1) next month. There are still various European targets that she could raid and plunder, but that will solely come down to connections. 

Ultimately that decision may come down to her owner and long-standing stud owner and supporter of racing in Kirsten Rausing. She did note to assembled media that she wishes to bring the horse back to the stud after the season has finished but would consider races such as the Breeders’ Cup if the mare came out of the race in fine order. 

She was keen however to concentrate on the now and was glowing in not just her admiration of Sir Mark and Luke, but of her team at the studs of St Simon & Staffordstown andLanwades.

“She is my sixth generation homebred, and this wouldn’t have been possible but for my marvellous team”.

“I am delighted, thrilled and grateful to Sir Mark for producing this marvellous mare, and to Luke (Morris)”. “He produced a fantastic riding performance today.”

For a jockey who is seldom seen at the top tier of races in the UK, he handled the big moment with supreme professionalism and mastery, one that many a jockey with years more experience than him would be jealous of. Long may he continue to strike on the big occasions, for he showed why he deserved the victory today. 

It would all be nothing without a team effort. An effort that not even a downpour before the race could dampen, and certainly nothing without a mare who is uncomplicated, handles any ground, and always strives to improve.

Alpinista, the silver jewel in British Racing’s crown.

By Tom Williams
All photos by JWTEquineImages

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@PastTheWire wow. I am thankful you took the time to provide such detail about an all time great horse and the tragedy of that final race.

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