Racing: Prescott makes a Dash for a Classic

YOUNG FAMILIES have been rushing past the gates of Heath House in Newmarket this week following news of the great master's swift deterioration.

Sir Mark Prescott, the champion of the amateur conditions event, the trainer who won seven of the first nine claimers to be run in Britain, the great manipulator in handicaps, is beginning to slip away. Confirmation of his fading faculties came in a simple and saddening gesture. He is about to run one of his string in a Classic. "I don't know what's come over me," Prescott said from his resting place yesterday. "I must have gone potty.

"I'm very worried about it [Triple Dash's entry in Saturday's 2,000 Guineas], especially as I've had no pressure from the owners to run. I can't blame them. It's all very unlikely and I don't know quite what I'm doing."

This, of course, is not exactly true. Prescott's title of honour was not bestowed to a dribbling nobleman who left his brains at the portcullis. The baronet has spent the near 30 years of his life with a licence excavating for treasures in the programme book. He used to be as much a scourge of the North as Rob Roy until others followed in his cartwheels. And then he found other areas to exploit.

Throughout it all, though, there were never any big winners and critics viewed Prescott as the natural counterbalance to the Quixotic Clive Brittain and Paul Kelleway - a man who kept his horses below their level. Whatever the merit to that argument, they can never say again that Sir Mark does not win major races. Pivotal provided him with his first Group One in York's Nunthorpe Stakes two years ago and there have been the flying fillies Last Second and Alborada recently too. But there has only ever been one Classic runner from Heath House and even that was on the Continent. Red Camellia finished third, beaten less than a length, in the 1997 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas).

It would probably have stayed like that had Prescott not been visited. As the curtains billowed in the wind last year he had a vision of the 1999 2,000 Guineas. "In my little dream world I'd thought of a plan, particularly as Triple Dash is a very useful horse in soft ground," he says. "We're running on the July course, which has got the stiffest last furlong of any track in the country. It has been watered every year for 30 years in the summer, and if we get a lot of rain it will be a morass.

"In my little fantasy world I imagined some wonderful horse emerging that would start odds-on and frighten the life out of everyone. There would be seven or eight runners, on this morass, and the fancied horse would do too much and I'd come along and fluke it.

"But the Almighty isn't on my side because he chucked the bucket of water on the July course last weekend instead of this. And the real good thing hasn't materialised. Everyone who's got half a racehorse is poling up."

It is, nevertheless, remarkable that Prescott is attending with his portion. Heath House does not usually awake from winter slumber until it hears the jangle of Morris Men around the Maypole. "I'm always out of form until the middle of the year," Prescott admits. "But then I always think the Classics come far too soon. The Guineas comes very early and the Derby is up hill and down dale on ground too fast, but that's what it's all about. That's all part of trying to find a very good horse. A proper horse will come early and still last the season.

"But, along the way, there have been endless good horses ruined just so they could get to the Guineas. Careers sacrificed on the altar of 1 May. But my horse has come to himself and I've had no difficulty getting him ready. I haven't done anything with him that I didn't want to do.

"I believe all horses develop in their own time. It's a bit like flowers. Daffodils come at this time of the year, tulips come next and then it's the poppies. Depending on what sort of horse you've got, he comes naturally at some point."

Triple Dash was a coming horse among the outsiders with William Hill yesterday. He is now 50-1 (from 66-1) for the first colts' Classic. "He's healthy and he's well and there doesn't look to be a terrifying, terrifying horse in there," Prescott said. "He'll run as long as the ground doesn't get firm."

There may be a different reason for Bountiful Lady's non-participation in the fillies' equivalent, Sunday's 1,000 Guineas. She is trained by another of Newmarket's titled inhabitants, Sir Michael Stoute, but even his influence may not be able to get her inside the July Course safety limit of 23 runners.

Bountiful Lady is the 27th and lowest rated of those declared at the five-day stage, despite winning her only race, and can run only if others defect. Magda, Jig and Lamzena are also in danger.

This is of no matter to Steven Drowne, who has been given a debut Guineas opportunity aboard Mick Channon's Golden Silca. "I sat on her this morning and she worked very nicely," the jockey best known for his handicap alliances with Hard To Figure and Sea Freedom said. "She is a game filly who was second in her trial and will have an outside chance."