5 October 2003
Prescott’s legendary training skill is underlined yet again with a last-gasp victory in the Tote Cambridgeshire
Sir Mark Prescott is proud of his old fashioned values. They include courage, loyalty, planning and patience. They all came together when the ageless George Duffield stretched Chivalry over the line in the narrowest of photo finishes to become the first horse this century to win the Cambridgeshire without a previous run during the season.
It was Prescott and 56-year-old Duffield’s 800th winner together. It was the third time Sir Mark had won the Cambridgeshire, the last time in 1997 with Pasternak, whose owner Graham Rock owned Chivalry until his death and about whom Prescott spoke quite magnificently at a memorial service last year. Pasternak had run just once before Newmarket. Landing another coup with Chivalry first time out should have been impossible but that is just the reason Prescott got the odds against it.
A year ago Chivalry finished ninth in this hugely competitive handicap, but was second of his group in one of those frustrating Newmarket events which split in two and give you two separate races at the same time. The target was set, and despite worries about the fast ground (although not as fast as last year’s track record), which saw him ease to 14-1 in the betting, Chivalry was always a close-up threat yesterday.
Thankfully there was no repeat of the frequent “twin race” fiasco and all 34 runners came up the centre of the track in a diamond formation led by the favourite Akshar who was running too free for his own good. These early exertions took their toll and as Checkit came through to lead, the tall bay figure of Chivalry loomed up on is left and another miracle was on the cards.
As masterworks go this was a pretty tight one. For when Chivalry came on his long bay neck stuck up a shade awkwardly as a horse does when the ground is harder than the rhythm of his stride would like. It was clear that Duffield was going to need all his legendary strength. Even more so when the maroon silk figure of Michael Hills on the blinkered Adiemus could be seen coursing down on the leader.
The gap was shrinking all the way to the post although Chivalry still seemed to just have it as they flashed over the line. The still frame showed that the nods of the horses’ heads had put them so level you could only get a result by a magnifying glass. Adiemus has not won a race since setting up a four-race sequence culminating in last year’s Winter Derby on Lingfield’s Polytrack but he must take the prize here as the most gallant of losers.
For Duffield, who first rode in the race as an apprentice way back in 1967, it was a perfect vindication of his decision to keep on riding. Out of the saddle and hatless he might look his age, but up in the irons he is still a mighty engine. His style is a bit on the upright side compared to the low American style crouch epitomised by Dettori. But when George catches hold of a horse with a furlong to go, his demands with legs and arms and body and whip have compulsion about them that need no gainsaying.
This was his 78th winner of the season and in paying tribute to their 31-year partnership Prescott said afterwards: “It’s marvellous to see someone who has been at it for so long riding so wonderfully well. It is extraordinary to get on with someone for so long. I can’t get rid of George. I expect when he finally dies the Science Museum will want to open his body up and see why he can keep going for so long.”
As for Duffield, he contented himself by saying that as with both Quinlan Terry and Pasternak, he had got the Prescott runner to the front too early but paid tribute to the trainer. “Sir Mark is a master of getting a horse right for a big event. Full marks to the horse as he hates the ground. It’s taken him a year to get over the last time he ran on this ground. When he gets to the front he cocks his ears. But when the other horse came to me he dipped his head when it mattered.”
Chivalry began his career with a modest effort in a lowly event at Pontefract in September 2001. Two other runs at Brighton and Lingfield only revealed the merest glimmer of promise. But come Hamilton next June a new improved Chivalry was revealed with Duffield getting him home in the suitably named Unit 2 Security Classified Stakes.
Afterwards the astute watchers of the Form Book noted: “He looks likely to benefit from the shrewd placing of Sir Mark Prescott.” Three wins in the next month and now this first time out spectacular make those words ring true. Hope Graham Rock is cashing his ticket up where the winners never die.