Pivotal moment in Prescott's career

Richard Edmondson reports from York on a thrilling finish to the Nunthorpe
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When George Duffield was an apprentice jockey, at about the time England won the World Cup, a new assistant trainer arrived in his Newmarket yard and he immediately sensed they had something in common. "I was a bit cocky," the jockey said yesterday, "and so was he."

After a brief parting of the ways, Duffield was reunited with Sir Mark Prescott after the baronet had taken the reins at Heath House and the pair embarked on one of the most celebrated partnerships in the sport. Yesterday the odd couple achieved their finest moment when Pivotal delivered Prescott's first Group One winner here in the Nunthorpe Stakes.

"We never really hit it off together to start with because we were both too young," Duffield added. "But then we bumped into each other on a Bank Holiday at Warwick and he gave me a ride on a two-year-old that won.

"We've had perhaps two cross words in 20-odd years since and the one thing I've always wanted to do is win a Group One race for him."

On the surface, Duffield and Prescott are unlikely bedfellows. The jockey is the son of a miner from near Doncaster, while the trainer is an MP's offspring from Devon. They are bonded, however, in their admiration of Jack Waugh, the master of Heath House during their first uneasy encounters.

Prescott is up to, and indeed enjoys, performing in front of an audience, but there were rare moments of indecision and emotion from the persistent raconteur in the post-race celebrations yesterday. When Waugh's name was mentioned, the tone in Prescott's voice leapt appreciably towards the alto and his face twitched almost imperceptibly. "When he [Pivotal] passed the post I just thought to myself how Duffield and I owe everything to Jack Waugh," he said.

In racing's great feudal vernacular Prescott still usually refers to his old boss as Mr Waugh, and expects similar treatment in his own yard. It is unlikely that the staff at Heath House have ever considered for a second calling Prescott by his Christian name.

"I might cry for Mr Waugh but not for me," Prescott said, adding that his old mentor was still a visible figure in Newmarket, his 88 years not enough to stop regular dog-walking sessions.

The trainer is notable for the consistent strike-rate of his charges, but the snipers have always questioned why his yard had never registered at the highest level. The signs that Prescott had an animal to contradict the detractors came at the end of Pivotal's two-year-old campaign last season.

"He won at Newcastle impressively and then very impressively when he broke the track record at Folkestone, so you didn't need to be Einstein to spot he could go a bit," Prescott said.

The mumblings returned however when Pivotal ran poorly this summer in Newmarket's July Cup. "I ran him too soon in that," the trainer admitted. "The most common disease in horses getting beaten is trainer error but, thank God, it is seldom reported."

The bony colt certainly looked back to his best yesterday though as he circled the parade ring. Elsewhere on the oval were Mind Games, whose rich hide looked as though it had been rubbed generously with beeswax, and Eveningperformance, who was leaning so heavily on her lad that it appeared as if he would need some mobile scaffolding to keep the mare upright.

It was Eveningperformance who characteristically burst from the stalls as if a hornet's nest had been broken behind her.

Pivotal immediately sent out signs of distress but, perversely, this was of great comfort to his trainer. "The pace is crucial and they must go fast for him," Prescott said.

"The more he is off the bridle early on the happier you are, and I know it sounds funny, but when I saw him being pushed along I heaved a sigh of relief."

Prescott was rather less soothed by Eveningperformance's refusal to burn out. Pivotal closed remorselessly throughout the final furlong, but it was only on the line that he managed to slide his little chestnut face in front.