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Horse Racing

I was a jockey until I turned to smoking ten cigars a day, waking up at 4am and living alone – I’m a racing legend

WHEN Sir Mark Prescott won the 2022 Arc de Triomphe with Alpinista, the entire racing world came together to celebrate one of racing’s biggest and most-loved characters.

Interviewed on live TV in the moments afterwards, the always cool, calm and collected Sir Mark let his guard down.

Sir Mark was famed for his skill training horses to the biggest prize – and for his love of a cigar… or ten

Gone was the raconteur who had adorned screens for years – and filled the pockets of punters.

In his place stood a man trying to come to terms with the enormity of what he and his superstar grey had achieved in arguably Europe’s greatest race.

A little over six months on, it doesn’t look like Sir Mark has anything in his yard currently capable of matching that daughter of Frankel.

But one thing remains – racing’s most interesting man is still grafting away.

Turn up at his historic Heath House yard at the bottom of Warren Hill in Newmarket on any given day and you’ll always find him in shirt and tie.

Perhaps that stiff-upper-lip mentality – in fashion at least – comes from his education at Eton.

If the school’s history is anything to go by Sir Mark could have gone into politics and become Prime Minister.

Instead it was horses that captured his attention and a stint in the saddle soon followed – until disaster struck.

Sir Mark told the Mail: “I broke my back when I was 17 riding at the now-defunct Wye racecourse and that changed everything.

“That was the defining moment of my life. I was in hospital for 18 months.

“I was a bit of a Jack The Lad. Everything was coming easy. I could ride a bit, had a girlfriend and a car. Then the music stopped – and didn’t it stop!

“I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t blink for nine weeks. You can’t imagine what that is like.

“I’ve never had pain and I’m terrified that one day I’ll have pain.

“It’s the most terrible experience, being a prisoner inside your own body with your mind racing.

“You can’t blink and if they don’t remember to close your eyelids, they stick to your eyeballs.”

Sir Mark came out of hospital a few months later a changed man.

Now he had a conviction to do the best he could in whatever he turned his mind to.

It meant when he set up a yard training horses and had a young William Haggas around, he demanded the best.

Haggas was Sir Mark’s pupil assistant but famously called his master ‘the most hateful human being he’d ever met in the world’ after one falling out.

Sir Mark can laugh about it now – and really the title is so far from the truth it’s a joke.

There’s no denying he turned Haggas into a top trainer in his own right.

He knows talent when he sees it, famously using just three jockeys throughout his decades-long traininer career.

Sir Mark, who lives on his own and is up before 4am every morning, told Sun Racing before Alpinista’s Arc win: “I have often looked at other women, but never at another jockey!”

A true eccentric with a knack for a killer one-liner, racing’s greatest character might be getting on a bit now at 75.

But, you know what they say, where there’s smoke there’s fire – and it still burns bright in Sir Mark.